Cimetière du Père Lachaise
pronounced: pair (rolling the 'r') la sharesz
Edith Piaf – the French singer, known as the little sparrow,
Oscar Wilde – Irish writer and playwright,
The Polish composer – Frédéric Chopin,
Jim Morrison – singer from the Doors,
Gertrude Stein – American author and her partner; Alice B. Toklas,
Sir Richard Wallace – English art collector and philanthropist, who was responsible for donating the ‘Wallace Fountains’ to the city of Paris,
Sarah Bernhardt – French stage and film actress,
Georges Haussmann – the French civil engineer and town planner, who redesigned Paris under Napoleon III’s watch,
All these people share something in common, they are all buried at the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
But it was a little five-year-old girl named Adélaïde Paillard de Villeneuve, who was the first to be buried at Père Lachaise, when it was instigated by Napoleon I in 1804.
Initially the cemetery proved to be unpopular.
The cemeteries of Paris were full and more were required. These were placed in what was then outside of Paris in Montmartre, Montparnasse, Passy and Gambetta, home of Père Lachaise.
However, it was too far for people to travel to bury their loved ones and as a result only 13 people were buried in the first year of the Père Lachaise Cemetery opening.
This was when a cunning marketing plan was hatched.
With great fan-fare, the administrators moved the remains of both Jean de La Fontaine, considered France’s most famous fable writer and poet and the French playwright and actor Molière.
The following year the cemetery saw the burials rise to 44 and by 1812, some eight years later to 833!
In 1817, again with much fan-fare, the supposed remains of the famous lovers, Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil were also transferred to Père Lachiase along with their elaborate canopied tomb. Although it still remains disputed whether their remains are actually in the crypt.
However the strategy worked and by 1830 the cemetery had 33,000 people buried there.
Each with a desire, to lay to rest amongst the famous.
And the rest is history, the cemetery was expaned five times and now there are over 1 million buried there and even more at the Columbarium.
Today Pére Lachaise Cemetery is not only one of Paris’ top tourist destinations, it also has a waiting list, with restrictions, as to who can be buried there.
Gone are the days, where they needed to devise marketing plans to encourage people to want to be buried there, now they are packing them in, in family plots.
Apparently, some family mausoleums, share dozens of family members.
But that is getting a bit morbid, so why should you visit Pére Lachaise Cemetery?
Perhaps for a gentle, peaceful stroll.
When in Paris, do as the Parisians do.
Perhaps to pay your respects to the famous, which is generally why people from all over the world visit Paris’ largest and most famous cemetery.
For example, this nondescript grave of Italian painter and sculptor – Amedeo Modigliani and his lover, who at the age of 22, and six months pregnant, threw herself off the fifth floor of a building, just one day after his death.
It is estimated that Pére Lachaise sees one and a half million visitors per year.
Or you could admire the marvellous sculptures, depicting passion and agony, with camera in hand whilst you stroll around the tree lined boulevards spread out over 44 hectares.
Personally, I generally get lost and never find what I set out to see, despite picking up a map at the information kiosk, but it never seems to bother me, I simply enjoy being there and discovering more things to photograph.
If you are lucky enough to find them, some other graves of note are:
Honoré de Balzac – French novelist
Eugéne Delacroix – French Romantic artist
Isadora Duncan – American dancer
Marcel Marceau – French mime artist
Marcel Proust – French novelist, essayist and critic
German artist – Max Ernst
and Louis Visconti – French architect
best known for designing the modern Louvre and Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides.
However, a grave I found slightly amusing was that of Victor Noir – journalist and son of a Jewish cobbler, who converted to Catholicism. He was killed by Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte, in a dispute over a duel with Paschal Grousset.
The tomb, designed by Jules Dalou, is notable for the realistic and life sized portrayal of the dead Victor Noir, with an erection!
It is said that his bronze penis and face are always so bright and shiny compared to the rest of the green oxidized sculpture because superstition has it, that if women kiss the lips of Victor Noir, rub his genital area and place a flower in his upturned hat, it will promise fertility.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I had no need for a fertility boost, so I was simply happy enough to have a giggle and snap a few photos.
For whatever reason you decide to visit Pére Lachaise Cemetery, and whatever you discover along your journey, you will be sure that you will enjoy your time there.
Here are a couple of blog posts on my visits to Père Lachaise Cemetery, one for the funeral of George Whitman, owner of the famous Paris bookstore Shakespeare & Co and another with Parisian Greeters – for your reading pleasure!
The amount of people living on the streets in Paris is alarming and I feel compelled to donate to their cause. Passing homeless people, tossing a few coins into their tins or bowls, is a regular occurrence, for me. If you would like to give to the city of Paris in another way, I would …
Three of George Whitman’s favourite books were offered to mourners as they filed out from the chapel after his service. The Idiot, Don Quixote and Leaves of Grass. A man who clearly loved literature and shared it with so many, no doubt would have wanted it this way, a parting gift. By the time I …
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