The Panteón Francés de La Piedad (French Pantheon of La Piedad) was built in 1865, when Maximilian I ruled as Emperor of Mexico. As a private pantheon, the French cemetery was able to preserve exquisite works of funeral art, and today it houses an eclectic array of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and neo-colonial tombs all worthy of admiring.
The cemetery is considered a hidden treasure of Mexico City, as it is an almost unknown place. Those who pass by Cuauhtémoc Avenue can only see the neo-Gothic tower of the abandoned church in the interior, and the monument to the fallen French soldiers of the First World War. Once inside, the main road hosts the family crypts of ancestral families. Each one has luxurious decorations, including marbles sculptures, stained-glass windows, and wrought iron doors. Behind them are the tombs. The best way to explore this solitary place is to lose yourself among the pathways and find the hidden surprises of the pantheon.
Among the labyrinthine corridors, you can find the gigantic monument dedicated to the firefighters who died in 1864 trying to rescue several people that were trapped in a burning building. There is also an ossuary where the French soldiers who died in Mexico during the French Intervention were buried.
In addition to the melancholic sculptures, the cemetery houses the tombs of various prominent figures that died in mysterious or unusual circumstances. Among them are the actress Miroslava Stern (who took her own life due to an unrequited love), the revolutionary Francisco I. Madero (killed by his minister of war), the deputy Serapio Rendón (kidnapped and murdered in 1913), the impressionist painter Joaquín Clausell (suffocated in the mud of a mudslide), writer and activist José Revueltas (who died of various diseases at 62 years old), and actor Mauricio Garcés (who committed suicide when diagnosed with cancer after acting in a movie filmed in a nuclear test field).
One of the most sought-out tombs at Panteón Francés is that of the comedian Roberto Gómez Bolaños “Chespirito,” who brought to life the beloved Latin-American character Chavo del 8. The poor character always wanted to eat a ham torta (a Mexican sandwich), and to this day people leave tortas at Chespirito’s grave.
Know Before You Go
Beware that Mexico City has two French pantheons. La Piedad, on one side of the viaduct, is the oldest and most beautiful. The one at San Joaquin is newer and not as exquisite.