A Quiet Morning at Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

On the morning of our flight back home to Edmonton, my husband and I visited Père-Lachaise cemetery. We had decided to leave it to the last day of our trip, since it was just a short walk from our apartment in the 11th arrondissement. We arrived just as it opened, so there were very few people around.

Père-Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris, and is also the first “garden cemetery,” making it very picturesque and serene, filled with large trees and greenery. Although it looks much older, Père-Lachaise only opened in 1804.

Pere Lachaise entry sign

Surprisingly, it wasn’t a very popular spot to be buried at first. Back then, it was thought to be too far from the city, so the location wasn’t very desirable. So the administrators began a marketing campaign. This consisted of moving the remains of Moliere and Jean de La Fontaine to Père-Lachaise cemetery later that same year. Although this helped a bit, the popularity and appeal of being buried in Père-Lachaise didn’t really take off until after 1817. This was the year when the supposed remains of famous lovers Pierre Abelard and Heloise d’Argenteuil were transferred here. Having the remains of a few famous local artists and poets did the trick; suddenly people were “dying” to be buried here. Thank you, I’ll be here all night!

Crypts in Pere-Lachaise

Of course, one of the most famous people to be buried here was Jim Morrison. But there are many others as well. So many, in fact, that there is a list at the entrance with a map of the cemetery:

Pere-lachaise burial list

As you can see, the list is extensive: Maria Callas, Auguste Comte, Marcel Proust, Camille Pissarro, and so forth. We only had a few short hours to explore, so we chose a handful of graves that we wanted to see. We started with an obvious choice: Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde's grave

You may be able to see the reflection of a maintenance vehicle in the protective glass. It was here to scrub off all the lipstick kisses left by adoring fans. There were even smooch marks on the lips of the sculpture:

Oscar Wilde's grave

While there were signs up asking visitors not to vandalize the grave, obviously people didn’t adhere to the request, and I imagine it requires frequent scrubbings.

We then wanted to find Édith Piaf’s grave, as we became enamoured of her music after watching La Vie En Rose. It was a bit trickier to find. The cemetery isn’t laid out quite as logically or numerically as we had initially expected. In hindsight, we should have picked up a map. We did end up finding Ms. Piaf’s grave with a bit of help from a phone app my husband found useful:

Édith Piafs grave

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was lovely to see fresh flowers that admirers had left, especially the roses.

There were some really spectacular graves and crypts. I thought Dominique Vivant, Baron de Denon’s grave was especially beautiful, and the flowers in his hand were a lovely touch. Denon was a writer, artist, diplomat and archaeologist. He was also the first director appointed to the Louvre by Napoleon after the Egyptian campaign of 1798–1801. The Denon wing of the museum is named after him:

The detailing on this door to a crypt was also a favourite:

details on crypt door

On our way to find Chopin’s grave, we passed jarring memorials such as this one, dedicated to the victims of Air France Flight 447, which went down on June 1, 2009 with 228 on board.

Pere lachaise plane crash memorial

There were dozens of memorials throughout the cemetery, most of which were dedicated to the lives lost during WWII. This memorial in particular was in memory of the 100,000 who died at Sachsenhausen concentration camp:

Chopin’s grave was fairly easy to spot, and it’s quite lovely. This was shot in “dramatic” mode by the way, which intensifies the colours. It wasn’t this dirty looking in real life:

Chopins grave

By the time we found Chopin’s grave we realized we were running a bit short on time. Jim Morrison’s grave was going to be our fourth stop, but we didn’t want to be late for our flight. It will have to wait until we return one day! Père-Lachaise does have a wonderful virtual tour online that you can explore at your leisure though: Père-Lachaise Cemetery

 

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