I have often heard about the big cemetery—Pere Lachaise—in Paris, but frankly, I’ve had no desire to go there. I really didn’t get it. Why would you want to traipse through gravestones?
But friend after friend ventured to the 11th arrondissement, coming back with reports of a fascinating place to visit.
What pushed me to schedule a tour was attending a talk at our local college where Steve Soper, an American who lived in Paris for a couple of years. He talked for two hours about this cemetery that houses ornate and ostentatious tombs of the rich and famous. He specializes in Pere Lachaise. Here’s his web site.
My gosh, I decided I had to go.
The cemetery is straddles two arrondissements on the far side of Paris. It’s huge. Actually it is the biggest park in Paris.
It’s really a Who’s Who of Parisian dead. Hah. Visiting it is a bit like taking a bus tour of Hollywood Star’s homes only….oh my….all the residents are deceased.
It opened in 1804 to alleviate crowding in other Paris cemeteries. The land belonged to Louis XIV’s confessor, Pere Lachaise. Many bodies were moved to the new cemetery, some of them of celebrities, to draw attention to the cemetery and encourage its use.
Now there are 70,000 over-the-top graves. Not to be missed is the crematorium, an impressive structure on its own but super eerie with the small chambers that house the ashes of the deceased.
So, why did I enjoy this experience and recommend it to others? Here are a few reasons.
A Beautiful Walk
- Pere Lachaise is a beautiful walk. Nestled on a hillside, the trees, cobblestones and meandering maze- like paths make for a great stroll. You can see slices of Paris through the trees as you move up the hill.
Our guide ( With Locals) told us that it is the third most visited site in Paris. It’s also said to be the world’s most visited cemetery. This was hard to believe on the Monday morning in September we were there. We had the place to ourselves.It’s a strange mix of tranquility and eeriness.
Learn French Cultural History
2. You can learn a lot of French cultural history and some strange stuff when you hike up the crooked alleys and narrow paths. If you have specific graves to see, you’ll feel like you are on a weird sort of scavenger hunt.
In the weird stuff category is the Oscar Wilde grave. It has glass around it to protect it from all the people who kiss it, leaving lipstick marks.
Famous People Buried in Pere Lachaise
3. Yes, famous people have been buried in here. Today, were you to find yourself interred at Père Lachaise, you’d be rubbing skeletons with the likes of Molière, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Chopin, Edith Piaf, and Jim Morrison of The Doors. His gravestone was a bit hard to find, but it was clear that lots of people meander the many stones to pay homage. Nearby is a tree covered with wads of gum. That’s an odd one.
Not too far from Jim Morrison’s grave is the tomb of Chopin. Chopin’s body is buried here, missing his heart, which he had requested to be removed, preserved in alcohol, and taken back to Warsaw by his sister. Talk about strange. Hmmmm.
See Wide Range of Architectural Styles
4. The styles of architecture are varied and fascinating. You get the sense that the rich and famous and the less so illustrious are competing for who can have the fanciest or most memorable eternal resting place. We were told there’s a 30 year waiting list to “get in” but exceptions have been made. Here’s the memorial to a young woman killed in the recent Paris terrorist bombings. The National level of grief made it appropriate for her to be honored here.
Enjoy the Weird
5 I loved the weird ones. Like the grave with potatoes on it. Or the strange hands. And one of the weirdest—the one with a camera in it, erected by a living photographer. He uses this to promote his business.
Bits of Advice
I can understand why a first-time visitor to Paris will skip this place (or maybe not even be aware of it) but if this is your second or third time in Paris and you’ve already covered the major tourist hotspots – come here for a walk back in time. You won’t be sorry.
Here are few bits of advice. If you have been to Pere Lachaise don’t hesitate to add your own in the comment section.
1. Get a good map. It can be confusing. Here’s the link to the map on the web site.
2. Wear your best walking shoes. The cobblestones can be tough to navigate and it is quite hilly.
3. Be aware there are no rest rooms or snack bars in the Pere Lachaise.
4. Consider hiring a guide to best appreciate what you are seeing. We used With Locals. Our guide was great and she enhanced the experience. https://www.withlocals.com/experiences/france/paris/
5. Here are some more web sites to check out.