Visit the famous cemeteries of Sète

Places of souvenirs and contemplation for the people of Sète, both cemeteries of the singular island also attract many tourists and visitors, particularly to the tombs of the iconic Sète singer Georges Brassens and the famous poet Paul Valéry.

Le cimetière marin

The Marine Cemetery

Perched in the heights of Mont Saint Clair in Sète’s artists’ district overlooking the Port of Sète and the Mediterranean Sea is what was formerly known as the Saint Charles Cemetery. Created around 1680 as a burial place for the first workers who died during the construction of the Saint-Louis breakwater, the initial 1064 m² grew over the following centuries with a series of plots, one of which was reserved for the Protestant community, which played an essential part in the growth of the port in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Marine Cemetery overlooking the Mediterranean Sea

Several graves recall the town’s maritime history, such as that of the pilots who disappeared while rescuing a ship in distress or that of the young midshipman Eugène Herber killed in Beijing in 1900. Others bear witness to the notoriety of Sète personalities, such as the politician Mario Roustan, the French actor and theatre director Jean Vilar, the jouster, Vincent Cianni, known as “the man with a hundred victories” and the film-maker Henri Colpi. But, the most famous personality is Paul Valéry, a French poet, essayist and philosopher who died on 20 July 1945 and was buried in this cemetery in the tomb of his ancestors. 

The Saint Charles cemetery was renamed Le Cimitière Marin (Marine Cemetery) on 7 August 1945 in a respectful tribute to Paul Valery’s famous poem Le Cimitière Marin (The Graveyard by the Sea), published in 1920. 

Le célèbre poème de Paul Valéry : Le Cimitière Marin

Paul Valéry’s famous poem: The Graveyard by the Sea

In one of Paul Valéry’s most moving poems of 24 verses, the narrator observes the calm sea under the blazing noontime sun and accepts the inevitability of death. But, as the wind begins to stir and waves start forming on the sea, a sign of the energy beneath the surface, the narrator proclaims the necessity of choosing life by electing for eternal change over contemplation. 

LE CIMETIÈRE MARIN, Paul Valéry 1920

Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes,
Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes ;
Midi le juste y compose de feux
La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée !
Ô récompense après une pensée
Qu’un long regard sur le calme des dieux ! …

The poem is evoked by Georges Brassens in his 1996 song “Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète” (Plea to be buried at the beach of Sète). Brassens also pays homage to Paul Valery with a verse: “Et c’est la mort, la mort, toujours recommencée” in his text “Mourir pour des idées”.

Musée Paul Valéry

Paul Valéry Museum

Just behind Le Cimitière Marin (Marine Cemetery) boasting an exceptional view and location, a restored 1970s Corbusian-style building hosts collections of beaux arts paintings and drawings. The Paul Valéry Museum brings together more than 7,000 works. In addition to the Fine Arts collections, which include more than 730 paintings and nearly 2,900 drawings, the museum has three specific collections: the Paul Valéry collection, the Salah Stétié collection and a collection of Popular Arts and Traditions. 

The surrounding gardens host outdoor events including conferences, literary encounters (notably “Les Journées Paul Valéry”, every year in September), poetry, recitals and concerts, which reflect the Mediterranean identity of the town of Sète. The cafe serves delicious food and drink, which can be enjoyed on the terrace overlooking the grounds and the sea.
Visit the Paul Valéry Museum, 148 Rue François Desnoyer, 34200 Sète; Tel.: +33 (0)4 99 04 76 16;

Le Py cemetery: Georges Brassens’ final resting place

Le Py Communal Cemetery, formerly known as the cemetery of the poor, is in the northern area of the town with the main entrance located on the Boulevard Camille Blanc. Officially consecrated as soon as it opened in 1877 to Saint Lazarus, this cemetery is better known simply as “Py”.

With stunning views over the Thau Laguna towards Balaruc, Bouzigues and Mèze, its military squares perpetuate the acts of courage shown by many young soldiers from Sète and also foreigners during the First and Second World Wars as well as those of decolonization. Beneath its tall cypresses, other graves preserve the memory of personalities who have contributed to the fame of the town of Sète, such as the actor Lucien Barjon, the footballer Yvan Beck, the actor Alfred Nakache and the politician Lucien Salette. The most famous, however, is Georges Brassens, a singer-songwriter, born on 22 October 1921 in a popular district of the port of Cette (the name of the city was not spelt Sète until 1928) who died on 29 October 1981. 

In 1966, Georges Brassens recorded his testament song “Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète” (Plea to be buried at the beach of Sète) where he dreamed of being laid to rest on a beach in the town of Sète. Impossible to be buried under a dune, his body lies in the family vault beneath a cypress tree opposite the Espace Georges Brassens in Le Py cemetery. 

Le tombe de Georges Brassens au cimitière Le Py à Sète
George Brassens' grave in the Py Cemetery in Sète (copyright Wikipedia)

Georges Brassens’ grave is much visited every year. The grave itself contains very few significant elements; none-the-less, it seems to play several important roles for his admirers: it enables them to be close to the body of the artist and demonstrate their attachment to him as they might have done by attending one of his concerts; it also confirms the coherence between the values he put forward as a singer and those he embodied as a man; lastly it gives a strong emotional strength to the revival of admirers’ memories of Brassens. 

L’Espace George Brassens

George Brassens Museum

Facing the Py Cemetery is the George Brassens Museum. Adorned with headphones, the voice of George Brassens guides you through the museum, whispering secrets in your ear about his life and his artistic career, his youth among friends in Sète, going to Paris, and his early days as an artist, a poet and a music writer. An exhibition retraces the singer’s encounters with women. More than half of his repertoire is dedicated to the female gender and to Püppchen, the woman who shared his life, his muse, his goddess, his eternal fiancée, the one for whom he wrote his greatest titles including “La non demande en mariage”.

You will experience an intimate moment charged with emotion as you enter the poet’s world.

Audio guide in English, Spanish, Italian and German.
Audio guide suitable for children.