Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who’s Who of the Dead in Paris

Let me just start by saying I don’t make it a habit of traipsing through cemeteries and photographing graves on my vacations, but because Père Lachaise is not your average, everyday graveyard, I made an exception. Visiting Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is the French equivalent of taking a Hollywood Homes bus tour except all of the residents are, well…dead.

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

Packed tight over 110 acres, Père Lachaise Cemetery has been the final resting place for hundreds of notable historical figures, and thousands more not-so-notable ones, since 1804. To convince Paris residents to purchase plots at the cemetery somewhat removed from the city center, the remains of famous French residents were transferred from their original graves to Père Lachaise. 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. The last of which was our primary reason for visiting the cemetery.

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

Probably the easiest to find inside Père Lachaise Cemetery (just follow the crowds), Jim Morrison’s grave is located northeast of the main entrance. However, due to some defacing of his gravestone, visitors are no longer allowed to touch his burial site. Morrison’s grave and those surrounding it are protected on all sides by a metal fence and, occasionally, a cemetery guard.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe a stereo playing Light My Fire on repeat and fans waving lighters in the air? Instead it was rather anticlimactic – just a bunch of people standing around looking at a rather modest gravestone. (Especially when compared to the more exotic graves of Père Lachaise’s other famous residents.) Someone this magnetic in life should not have been memorialized by such a dull grave marker in death. Just my two cents.

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

Not too far from Jim Morrison’s grave is the tomb of Chopin, marked by a gigantic sculpture of a weeping Euterpe, the muse of music. Chopin’s body is buried here, save for his heart, which he had requested to be removed, preserved in alcohol, and taken back to Warsaw by his sister. (Why are composers always so eccentric?)

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

If it weren’t for the roughly one million graves occupying the majority of the territory, walking through Père Lachaise Cemetery would be like taking a stroll through any other park in Paris. Canopies of leaves protect the stone footpaths that make up the streets of Père Lachaise. A good distance from the city, it’s quiet here, and vehicles aren’t allowed inside the cemetery walls. The trees were just beginning to show off their autumn colors, and every now and then we’d catch a particularly vivid one standing out against the grey monotone of the graves.

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

Besides visiting the cemetery to pay respects to the departed, many people come here simply to wander through the unique grave sites – sculptures, mosaics, tombs, sepulchres – all are different from the next. It’s more like walking through a gothic art museum than a graveyard.

Because we’d been delayed at other places during the day, we had to cut our time short at Père Lachaise. It had been raining the entire time we were at the cemetery and night was falling sooner than expected. (Who wants to be caught in a graveyard after dark? Creepy.) There were so many prominent figures whose graves I didn’t get to visit, and I really wanted to see #9 and #3 on this list, so the next time we find ourselves back in Paris, I’ll be making a return visit.

Planning your own trip to Père Lachaise Cemetery? Entrance is free and an extensive list of famous inhabitants can be found here. Free maps are handed out at the main entrance, or you can map out your visit online before you go by visiting the Père Lachaise website below.

Père Lachaise Cemetery: Website
Address: 16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris

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Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Who's Who Of The Dead In Paris

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  • Mandy Southgate
    December 22, 2013 at 12:13 AM

    I think this is my most favourite of all of your Paris posts! I would visit here for Jim, Oscar, Edit and Chopin (who must always be known by his second name). I had the opposite experience t you n Highgate Cemetary – I was horrified by the ostentatious stone marking Karl Marx’s grave. It seemed far too grand for the hero of the proletariat.

  • Emmymom
    December 17, 2013 at 12:27 AM

    It does look like there are some amazing graves there- plus it looks like they are really packed in there!

  • Sara Louise
    December 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    I did not know that there were a million graves there, that’s nuts!

    • Sarah Shumate
      December 16, 2013 at 1:50 PM

      Well, there’s a million people buried here, but some of them “double up” inside the graves and entire families are buried in the sepulchers, so I guess I should have clarified that!

      • Sara Louise
        December 16, 2013 at 2:11 PM

        Either way, that’s a whole lot of people!

  • Mrs. Match
    December 15, 2013 at 9:13 PM

    What a beautiful cemetary. When I was a kid, my parents always took us to picnics at cemetaries and I thought it was so creepy. I’d love to do that now though.

  • Katrin
    December 15, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    I love to visit old cemeteries, I don’t know why! So this is definitely on top of my list for a Paris trip! Thanks for sharing! I did not know about the heart thing, that is pretty strange and interesting!

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    December 14, 2013 at 9:44 PM

    I find cemeteries fascinating. There is a huge one in Prague that is amazing to walk through, and we did many times! Not to mention the Jewish cemeteries as well!!

  • jaklien
    December 14, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    I love walking around cemeteries. And Pere Lachaise is one of my favourite!

  • Nicole
    December 13, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    If cemeteries can be beautiful, I think this one definitely is one the top of the list! And I think that if musicians were more normal, they wouldn’t make as great of music :)

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    December 13, 2013 at 10:53 PM

    It’s beautiful, because of and despite the long term residents, isn’t it.

  • Must for Wanderlust
    December 13, 2013 at 9:15 PM

    This was honestly one of my all-time favourite places in Paris… Gorgeous photos. x

  • Keith Wynn
    December 13, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    I have always thought that there was a lot of beauty to old cemeteries…this is no exception.

  • topchelseagirl
    December 13, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    I do make a habit of traipsing round cemetaries, I love them – I know I’m weird. I’ve visited Pere Lachaise a couple of times and both times there were guys sitting on and around Jim Morrison’s grave strumming on guitars – shame it has been sectioned off.
    Once we passed an old lady, who was wandering around aimlessly, and asked us whether we’d ‘seen anyone famous?’ We said ‘Yes, Chopin is just over there.’ She didn’t know about the maps.

  • Caroline
    December 13, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    What a beautiful cemetery. I’ve always found them fascinating and peaceful at the same time. I live near Highgate cemetery which has quite a few famous names such as Karl Marx. The whole atmosphere can really get you thinking.

    Caroline x

  • Gina
    December 13, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    I will definitely be going there when I get back to Paris. Thanks for providing the links so that I can plan my visit better. I agree with you, I will head over there early in the day ~ no one wants to be in a graveyard after dark ~ yikes! I am loving all your Paris posts ~ they make me want to get back there to explore asap! ;)

  • Jamie | The Healthy Passport
    December 13, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    There is something about walking through a cemetery that is eerily calming! How fitting that it was rainy and dreary :)

  • susannem
    December 13, 2013 at 5:21 AM

    His lucky sister who received his heart. I wonder how he came up with the idea to preserve it and gift it to her…