Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, March 25, 2024

The Most Beautiful World War One Cemetery I've Ever Visited

By Editor Mike Hanlon

During my time leading tours of World War One battlefields, I was able to take one group to the sites south of Verdun in and around the Vosges Mountains. Unlike almost all my other tours, however, I had never done a pre-reconnaissance of the area. Also, my guidebooks were a little weak on this sector, especially on the German side of things. Since I always included stops at the cemeteries and memorials of all the combatants, I was forced to select  almost-randomly three German cemeteries using a Michelin map, guided exclusively by the proximity of the cemeteries to our main route. I guess by accident, I struck gold. I've visited hundreds of the cemeteries from the war, and this one turned out to be the most beautiful I've ever experienced.

Different Elements Around the Graves: Stone Bridge,
Stream, Somber Plantings

The German war cemetery Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines at Montgoutte in Alsace,  stunned all our group when we arrived and approached the front gate. The elegant and somber landscaping, the dignified arrangement of the graves, and its magnificent centerpiece 40-foot cross were collectively a masterpiece of design and—at least to me—felt like a holy place of remembrance. The photos here,  of course, can only hint at the experience of being there in person. I hope if you ever find yourself traveling in the area you have a chance to visit the cemetery.

Enhanced Stream Bed

Perhaps, though, I should share one caveat.  The current look of the cemetery is not anything like the original "natural" look of the little mining district valley where it is set. The design and appearance of the cemetery evolved over decades and two world wars, although the large cross was begun when the Great War was still raging. The current "look" was, as best I can figure, finalized in 1966 with the intention of turning the cemetery into a "showpiece", possibly as a pilgrimage destination. The undated photo below shows some interim configuration with the large cross installed but with little of the current landscaping added and the graves still marked with a mixture of cross designs.

Earlier Configuration

The earliest construction on the cemetery at Montgoutte was begun during the war using civilians and prisoners of war by the newly established German War Graves Service. From the Great War are 1,039 German burials, including 671 in individual graves. Later, 136 graves from the Second World War were added.  

German Soldier in the Center of the Cross

The graves are aligned on either side of a monumental granite cross, whose bronze medallion represents a German soldier. The stream that flows in the middle of the cemetery refers to the symbolism of rest and peace. It has been listed as a World Heritage site since 2023. About 6km to the west at the Sainte-Marie Pass is a French national cemetery holding 230 fallen from the First World War, which has an identical name, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines.  Today, the Montgoutte cemetery is maintained by the German federal government, which sends military personnel based near Bruchsal Untergrombach every year to carry out maintenance work.

Getting There


Heading north from Colmar, take N83/A35 to Chanenois and follow Exit 17 west to Sainte Marie Aux Mines.

Heading south from Strasbourg, take A35 to Chanenois and follow Exit 17 west to Sainte Marie Aux Mines.


  1. Makes me vaguely think of my personal favorite, the British/German cemetery of Saint-Symphorien near Mons, Belgium. It was started by the German Army, but the local man who gave the terrain to the Germans had one condition: also the British enemy had to be honored there, so British and German victims of the Battle of Mons were buried there. It is an amazing mix of German and British funerary traditions, a must see if you are around! Jan Ouvry

    1. Agree. Beautiful. While at SHAPE, I represented the US military rep at the November 11 wreath-laying ceremonies there.

  2. I , having been in attendance during Mike’s discovery, strongly endorse his description. It is beautiful and peaceful. Most German cemeteries are stark and foreboding. I recall also on another Tour with Valor, a German WWI cemetery in Flanders, with Star of David headstones among the crosses. What I found most unusual was that during WWII, this was occupied land by the Nazi’s. While they were rounding up and sending Jewish citizens to Death Camps, the German military would not allow the Nazi’s to desecrate the WWI Jewish graves.

  3. Agree, a very tranquil spot a credit to the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge. There are so many beautiful cemeteries on the Western Front - and of course the work done by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is exemplary.