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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

A Hauntingly Beautiful Stroll Through Paris' Père Lachaise Cemetery


image: frommers.com - courtesy of Carolyn Campbell

Last Halloween, P'Niche was excited to share a spooky walk through the history of the Catacombs of Paris. This year, let's keep it above ground (but no less ghostly) by taking a P'Niche peek at the Père Lachaise Cemetery...


P'Niche is easily spooked, but knowing that this is where my fave songbird, Édith Piaf, is laid to rest, I am nervously looking forward (I think) to this visit - Je ne regrette rien?! Let's Go!


image: Breton Console

First off, let's note that Père Lachaise is visited by over 3.5 million visitors annually, making it the most visited gathering of graves, tombs, and mausoleums in the world. What makes this cemetery so special? Well, let's be honest, we have always had a unquenchable fascination with death and the afterlife.


But, for Père Lachaise, the list of noteworthy residents(?) reads like a dream dinner party invite list: Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Honoré de Balzac, Molière, Colette, Max Ernst, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Michel New, Frédéric Chopin, Émile Waldteufel, Marcel Proust, Georges Méliès, Jean de la Fontaine, Marcel Marceau, Gertrude Stein, Thierry Fortineau, JRD Data, Judah H Benjamin, and Richard Wallace.


image: Chrissy Consolé

Despite this absolute pedigree of names, the cemetery was actually purchased by the city of Paris in 1804. It was Napoléon (the newly crowned Emperor) who decreed, "Every citizen has the right to be buried, regardless of race or religion."


He even ordered the Prefect of the Seine, Monsieur Nicolas Frochot, to launch a competition for the design of the cemetery, which was placed on the Parisian outskirts.


image: Chrissy Consolé

Landscape designer Alexandre Bongniart won the competition and immediately began his plans.


First off was finding a way to please a widespread population. His remedy to this was to being by naming the cemetery after the confessor to Louis XVI, the Sun King, himself - one Père Lachaise.


Excavation and construction began, leading to the grand opening of the cemetery on May 21, 1804.


However, staunch Catholics of the time did not wish to get laid to rest there, as it was not considered sacred, blessed, or hallowed ground. As such, Père Lachaise installed only 13 graves in its first year.



image: Chrissy Consolé

What followed next was French marketing at its finest.


With much publicity and pomp, the cemetery administration announced the transfer of the remains of Jean de la Fontaine (French fabulist) and Molière (French playwright) to Père Lachaise.


Let me tell you, moving two of France's most famous and revered artists to the plots had quite the impact - just as desired and anticipated.


Residents lined up to join the lists of those wishing to be interred or have loved ones moved. Today, Père Lachaise boasts to be the resting place over over one million souls.


image: Chrissy Consolé

Père Lachaise has been expanded upon five times. The years: 1824, 1829, 1832, 1842 and 1850 saw many updates and new items. That may explain why so many various types of art, landscape design, and architecture can be found on the grounds.


From English park to more formal garden layouts with gothic style graves, Haussmann type burial chambers, mausoleums most ancient, and even the occasional crooked staircase - it can all be found within the walls of Père Lachaise.


The layout of Père Lachaise is quite unique. Among over 5,000 trees (with current plans to plant even more greenery for both tranquility and ecology), the nearly 110 acres is a winding, labyrinth type of resting place.


image: rfi.fr

Speaking of ecology, Père Lachaise also hosts its own unique biodiversity and culture - you might even call it a miniature natural reserve.


These days, the pesticides once used to control the population of feral cats, is prohibited. Now a rich ecosystem thrives in the cemetery, including various flora like orchids and cyclamen, not to mention the community of foxes, and over 100 species of birds.


The cemetery has become a nature lover's true delight.


image: Chrissy Consolé

The topography of the cemetery lends itself to a great game of hide and seek, or if you are solider - a battle.


Twice, the cemetery has hosted battles - the first in 1814 during the Napoléonic Wars and the second in 1871 during the Paris Commune.


From the latter mentioned battle, bullet holes can still be seen on the cemetery's Mur des Fédérés.


image: en.wikipedia.org

In addition to the private resting places, there are many specially dedicated monuments, like:

  • Aux Morts Ossuary

  • Monuments for foreign soldiers who died for France during WWII

  • Monuments in the memory of victims of concentration and extermination camps

  • Monuments in homage to victims of catastrophic aerial accidents


image: Chrissy Consolé
  • Moments in homage to victims of June 1848 (the suppression of the Paris working class uprising)

  • Monument for the genocide in Rwanda

  • There are also three World War I memorials

There is just so much to discover, it's definitely worth the visit - even if just for the quiet you feel during your stroll.




image: Breton Console

One such gent who enjoyed the peace and solitude of the cemetery was Honoré de Balzac, stating, "I seldom go out, but when I feel myself flagging, I go out and cheer myself up in Père Lachaise. While seeking the dead, I see nothing but the living."


You know where you won't find peace and quiet in the graveyard? The burial site of American rock star, (lead singer of The Doors) Jim Morrison, who passed in Paris in 1971.


Here, you will find loud revelers who often host parties, etc., in Jim's honor, sadly, and all too often, to the defacement of the tombs nearby.


P'Nicher, I know you won't do that!


image: Chrissy Consolé

Want to have your remains laid to rest in Père Lachaise? You're in luck! Sorta...


Truly, the rules are rather strict due to the very limited amount of space currently available. You'd also need to pass away in Paris or have lived there.


If you were lucky enough to find your resting place here, you could choose from a simple, unadorned headstone to the most elaborate of mausoleums with room for some family, or some friends to pay respects and leave some flowers for your memory.


Plots would be able to be purchased, in perpetuity, for 50, 30 or even 10 years.


Sign me up? Teasing Teasing...


Ready to get your visit on? Great!


Le Cimetière du Père Lachaise

16, rue du Repos, 75020


Métro: Père Lachaise (Lines 2 & 3)


The cemetery is open:


Weekdays from 8:00am - 5:30pm

Saturdays from 8:30am - 5:30pm

Sundays from 9:00am - 5:30pm


Do note, the cemetery remains open until 6:00pm during the summer, when the sun sets in Paris at a gloriously later hour.


Entry is free, and no ticket is required.



Image: ontheworldmap.com/france/city/paris/pere-lachaise-map.html

That said, as we mentioned, the layout of the cemetery is vast and rather tricky.


P'Niche suggests you plan ahead and strategize your route.

You can download and/or print out this incredibly useful map using this link.

Tell Édith Piaf I said bonjour!




image: https://thetab.com/uk/

While planning, you might check out some pop culture and literary Père Lachaise visits:


- Emily in Paris - Season 2 - Episode 3

- Amélie

- Short Film called Oscar and Jim, which is set entirely in Père Lachaise

- Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo"

- Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables"

- Video Game: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt


What do you say, P'Nicher - have you added Père Lachaise to your plans? If you have already been, what was your favorite moment, monument, or item? Let us know in the comments below et â bientôt!


image: Breton Console
4 comments

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4 commentaires


Debra Borchert
Debra Borchert
05 nov. 2023

My chevalier and I spent an afternoon in Pere Lachaise, and it was one of our favorite days of a two-week trip. So peaceful and graceful and as beautiful as Chrissy has captured it in her photos and words. Merci!

J'aime
chrissy
08 nov. 2023
En réponse à

Thank you so much and I have to admit that space really surpassed my expectations, I don't know why I waited so long - merci encore! :)

J'aime

Joyce J. Adams
Joyce J. Adams
31 oct. 2023

Chrissy, great story for Halloween! In 2019, we had the opportunity to tour Père Lachaise with Corey. Such an interesting place, not just the celebrities buried there, but the entire ambiance and feel. So many stories, some known and some unknown.

J'aime
chrissy
31 oct. 2023
En réponse à

Thank you so much and it was such a fun research - I truly had no idea of the very rich history - Happy Halloween!

J'aime
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