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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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