Carmes Cemetery (Clermont-Ferrand, France)

Carmes Cemetery (Clermont-Ferrand, France)
The Carmes Cemetery is an open-air museum and one of the few public places in Clermont-Ferrand where visitors can see the river Tiretaine.

History of the Carmes Cemetery

The Carmes Cemetery is located on a site that has been occupied since the creation of the Roman city of Augustonemetum. The ancient thoroughfare between Vichy and Limoges runs through the site, which also adjoins the Via Agrippa, a major Roman road crossing Gaul from east to west. In Roman times, Augustonemetum was an important enough stopping point to feature on the Peutinger Table, a huge map of the Roman Empire and lands conquered by Alexander the Great as far away as India. The site has been used for funerary purposes since the first centuries AD.

There is evidence of a monastery in the 10th century, then again at the end of the 12th century. In the 17th century, the Order of the Discalced Carmelites occupied the site. A century later, the Carmelite Chapel was rebuilt in a baroque style that was unique in Clermont-Ferrand. In 1816, Clermont-Ferrand City Council purchased part of the former Carmelite site and the land was returned to its original function as a cemetery.

The new cemetery was inaugurated on 21 July 1816. In 1846, the first extension of the cemetery took it south of the old Roman road up to the modern-day Chaussée Claudius. The last extension commenced in 1908 with the purchase of the Pré Bertrand, a field to the north of the river Tiretaine.

It is no surprise that this iconic cemetery became the site of the Jewish section and the military sections for the French, German, English and New Zealand soldiers who died in the two world wars.

Its past gives it an international dimension that justifies its inclusion in Clermont-Ferrand’s bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2028.

Architectural and landscape features of the cemetery

The Tiretaine, Clermont-Ferrand’s river, which is now to a large extent buried, runs through the cemetery. The site of the Carmelites is one of the very few public places where it is possible for visitors to see the river. It was partially diverted and canalised in 1886, but still forms the boundary between the “old” and “new” cemetery. Lined with trees, it forms a natural island of freshness amidst the 11 hectares of graves. The cemetery is home to a wide variety of tree species, the most significant being maple, cedar and lime.

The architects who worked on the Carmes Cemetery between 1816 and 1908 were employed by the city council. They spent most of their career in Clermont-Ferrand, where their creations can be found (extension of the Hôtel-Dieu, the City Hall).

The cemetery has retained its original design. It has grown through extensions and the acquisition of land to the north and south. The ancient thoroughfare that crossed through it in the south was moved (to the location of the current Chaussée Claudius) in 1886, but its old route still runs along row 13. The fence that was built at the end of the 19th century is still present today. The entrance gate is the original gate. The cemetery also benefits from the presence of the baroque-style Carmelite Chapel, which is the only example of 18th-century religious architecture in Clermont-Ferrand.

The Carmes Cemetery is an open-air museum reflecting two centuries of artistic expression. A museum of architecture thanks to the diversity of styles used over the ages - Neoclassical, neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, etc. A museum of fine arts thanks to its sculptures, stained-glass windows, ironwork, etc., which accompany, depict or watch over the deceased. A museum of history thanks to the status of those buried there - politicians, artists, architects - who led, built or embellished the city.

The Carmes Cemetery also bears testimony to the distinctive choices of materials used to build the tombs. Although limestone and marble are present, Volvic stone is the predominant material used. This lava stone is a trachyandesite extracted from the lava flow from the La Nugère volcano and has been used since the 13th century. The Gothic Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral, construction of which began in 1248, is made exclusively from Volvic stone. This dark grey material is resistant to frost and pollution, including to acids, and is easy to sculpt. Its physical properties, coupled with its dark colour, made it the perfect stone for funerary monuments.

Video of the Carmes Cemetery


11 Rue du Souvenir Français
63000 Clermont-Ferrand