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Morne-A-l'Eau, Guadeloupe

Cimetière de Morne-À-l'Eau (Cemetery of Morne-à-l'eau)

At first glance, little checkered structures on the hillside look like they house the living, not the dead.  

At the stunning hillside cemetery of Morne-à-l’eau (Cimetière de Morne-à-l’eau), nearly all the crypts are decorated with checkered black and white tile. If you climb to the top of the hill among the dense tombs, you can look down at what appears to be a checkered miniature cityscape.

With tombs dating back to the mid-19th century, the cemetery has gotten much more inclusive over the years. Originally, only the wealthy landowners of Guadeloupe could afford to bury their dead here, but now the site is home to Gaudeloupeans of all races and classes. 

The tombs are shaped like little houses, and many of them include spots for the living to hangout among their ancestors. Shrines with photographs, flowers, candles, and other memorabilia are set up on shelves inside the structures. 

Melted candle wax covers the ground in many of the open concrete areas, presumably left from the annual All Saints Day celebration during which the cemetery is covered with thousands of candles and families gather to honor the dead and reminisce. 

The origin of the black and white motif is unclear. Some say it represents yin and yang, and others claim it’s a combination of black, the European color of mourning, and white, the African one. Whatever the meaning, the effect is otherworldly in an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-kind of way. 

Also unclear: how those few pink and blue tombs snuck in! 

Know Before You Go

The cemetery is easily accessible from the main road.