Père Lachaise: A Guide to Paris’ Most Famous Cemetery 

Have you ever had the urge to just grab a horror novel and leisurely stroll through a cemetery? Perusing the graves, book in hand, admiring the beauty of each grave? No? Just me then? Well okay.. Let’s go ahead and change that right now.

I’m about to walk you through the most famous Parisian cemetery and you can decide for yourself at the end whether or not you’d actually fancy the idea of a good scary read in the middle of a beautiful cemetery lined with graves.

Here we go.

Père Lachaise cemetery opened in 1804 in Paris and is located in the East of Paris in the 20th arrondissement. It holds over 1 million graves and inside there is located a crematorium and columbarium. In addition to many famous names buried inside, the cemetery also contains multiple World War I memorials.

Last weekend I spent an afternoon perusing through the numerous graves, finding famous souls of the past and viewing the monuments and buildings it has to offer. 

 As you can imagine, this is a vastly large cemetery and if you’re planning to visit to see one of the famous names buried there, I highly recommend grabbing a map at the entrance. The plots of well-known names and figures from history are listed alphabetically and can easily be found if you just follow the map.

I say easily.. but..

I started out searching for Chopin. He was the closest to the entrance and I thought he’d be easily found. After many hills of exploration and about twenty minutes of blind plot searching, I decided he couldn’t be found. I can only chalk this up to the fact that he’s just not there (it certainly wasn’t due to my poor navigation skills).

After failing to find Chopin, I decide Jim Morrison is up next. I’d already previously found his grave on a different date but went back again anyway because I was with friends who hadn’t yet seen it. This time I easily found my way to his blocked off grave, cluttered with gags of people around hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous rocker and member of the 27 club. His grave, notably one of the most visited in the cemetery, is buried beneath arrangements of flowers, lipstick kisses and street graffiti. All expressions of undying love for The Doors’ frontman. It’s oddly beautiful for an immense target of vandalism. You know that even though the grave is decorated with spray paint and lipstick, every single line and letter is love and admiration personified in colorful streaks. 

 

Next up, Oscar Wilde. I’d heard his grave was of extravagant nature but I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams just how extravagant. The tomb was designed by sculptor Jacob Epstein and his focus for the tomb is derived from Indian and Egyptian art for their nature of primal sexuality. The tomb is a sort of angel bird hybrid that was originally completed with full male genitalia – this bit has since been vandalized and the whereabouts are now unknown. Again, littered with flowers and lipstick prints of affection, it’s a spectacle of odd beauty. The epitaph on the back reads,

“And alien tears will fill for him

Pity’s long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.”

This is a verse from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a poem by Wilde. Stunning don’t you think? 

   

Finally we come to my lady Edith Piaf. In an entirely different realm design-wise, her grave was simple and elegant. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you wouldn’t even know it was her. Just a normal grave, save for the vase situated on top with the initials “E.P.,” she’s buried with her daughter, father and second husband. I took a short moment here to pay my respects to my dear beloved lady, and what a lady she was. 

   

Among the other graves discovered were Honoré de Balzac, a French novelist and playwright, and Gilbert Morard, father of the modern French metro. Morard’s grave was incredibly interesting – it was buried beneath hundreds of used metro tickets. A spectacle, definitely. 

   

I also walked past the crematorium and columbarium, each grand and magnificent. 

   

So, there you have it. If I haven’t convinced you that cemeteries are beautiful and wondrous and the best place to curl up with a horror novel within this post, then I’m afraid there’s truly no hope for you.

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