It might seem a bit odd to search out a cemetery when travelling, but in Paris it’s an enjoyable way to spend some time. Hear me out! Gone are the crowds. It’s like walking through a beautifully landscaped park. Tombstones vary from grave to grave, some simplistic while others are intricately detailed. And don’t even get me started on the history. If you’re needing a break from galleries, consider a visit to a Parisian cemetery.
The first time my best friend, Stephanie, and I visited Paris together, we thoroughly enjoyed a couple of hours wandering through the Montmartre Cemetery.
So while in the planning stages of our next recent trip (this time with the guys in tow), we decided that making the trek out to the Grand Père (ahem) of them all was a priority.
Trek sounds quite dramatic but most visitors to Paris focus on the city’s central area and rarely leave it. It was my fifth time to Paris and only my first visit to Père Lachaise. But in reality our “trek” was an easy bus ride without transfers. Before the pandemic and working from home, it took me longer to get to/from work each day!
In my research I learned that Emperor Napoleon I inaugurated the cemetery in 1804. He mustn’t have been overly confident, as he arranged to transfer the remains of French playwright Molière and famous lovers Abelard and Heloise to Père Lachaise in order to up the prestige factor.
But he didn’t need to worry, as Père Lachaise houses approximately 300,000 graves and consistently has a waitlist for people to be buried there. It’s also one of the world’s most-visited cemeteries. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people stroll its beautiful grounds each year.
Most people arrive with a map and list of graves they want to visit, and we were no different. The grounds of Père Lachaise are huge so it was a fun scavenger hunt to find them all. Here’s our list in order of graves visited ..
October 16, 1854 – November 30, 1900
You’ll note the glass around Wilde’s grave? It was put there to prevent people leaving lipstick kiss marks all over the stone. Not only was it gross, but Wilde’s family had to incur the costs of repeated cleaning.
July 27, 1848 – January 11, 1870
Monsieur Noir would be interested, I’m sure, to know that his grave is probably the most popular in all of Pere Lachaise with female visitors.
Move over Oscar Wilde!
According to Wikipedia, “Myth says that placing a flower in the upturned top hat after kissing the statue on the lips and rubbing its genital area will enhance fertility, bring a blissful sex life, or, in some versions, a husband within the year..
.. As a result of the legend, those particular components of the otherwise verdigris (grey-green oxidized bronze) statue are rather well-worn and shiny.”
No, not awkward at all.
French Singer, Songwriter and Performer
December 19, 1915 – October 10, 1963
Her nickname La Môme Piaf (“The Little Sparrow”) comes from the fact she was only 4’8″ tall. Her colourful life was marred by tragedy from the very beginning. Love, loss, sickness, addiction.. and the French public wrapped their arms around their beloved chanteuse.
I read that while she had been denied a funeral mass by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris because of her lifestyle, her funeral procession was followed by tens of thousands of mourners. It was apparently the only time since the end of World War II that Parisian traffic has come to a complete stop.
American singer, songwriter and poet
December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971
The bottom of the plaque is inscribed with ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ, which literally translates to “according to his own daemon, i.e., guiding spirit,” to convey the sentiment “True to Himself.”
Next to the grave there is a gum tree. As in, a tree covered with chewed gum. I don’t understand the significance, but kept a safe distance. Because germs.
One of the last public places that Jim Morrison was seen alive is a bar called La Mazet which, incidentally, was also the last place all four of us were seen together in Paris before my husband and I headed for Normandy the next morning.
Polish pianist and composer
March 1, 1810 – October 17, 1849
Chopin was one of music’s earliest superstars, who sadly died of tuberculosis. He reportedly requested that his body be opened after death (for fear of being buried alive) and his heart was returned to Warsaw where it rests to this day.
One of the strangest things I’ve learned about Chopin is that while on his death bed it was apparently said that “all the grand Parisian ladies considered it de riguer to faint in his room”.
Héloïse & Abelard
French nun, writer, scholar and abbess
1090/1100–1 (?) – May 16, 1164
French scholastic philosopher, theologian, and logician
1079 – 21 April 1142
The romance and letters of these two eternal lovers remain legendary almost a century later.
Prefect and urban planner
March 27, 1809 – January 11,1891
We can thank Baron Haussmann for the Paris we see today, with its beautiful parks, impressive wide boulevards and tidy buildings complete with intricate wrought iron works – not to mention its essential sewage system. Interestingly, while he’s celebrated the world over, he wasn’t very popular with Parisians themselves.
If you’re interested in seeing the rest of my photo album, check it out here. Of course, I’ve only just scratched the surface – there are so many more beautiful things to see at Père Lachaise. Have you been? If so, what were your favourites?
lazy like me jetlagged, do yourself a favour and enter the cemetery from the top of the hill through Porte Gambetta. By doing so, you’ll make your way leisurely downhill (rather than walking uphill), eventually arriving at the main entrance, Porte du Répos.