Ordinarily I would not go to a cemetery unless it was absolutely unavoidable, but living in Paris makes you do strange things. I spent a good part of a morning reading headstones and photographing graves. Yep! I did.
Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is actually a tourist attraction listed as one of the places to visit by most tourist publications. I was on my way back from some place else when I realised that the metro line I was on stopped at Père-Lachaise. I thought, why not? And hopped off.
Père-Lachaise is the nickname given to this most famous of Parisian cemetries. It was officially called Le Cimetière de L’Est. It is located on the site of a former Jesuit retreat east of the city. The Who’s Who of Parisian literary, political, and musical greats is buried here. Of course, it is the final resting place of Oscar Wilde that still draws the crowds.
His grave is now enclosed behind a wall of plexiglass to keep the hordes of annual visitors from defacing it. There were people literally clinging to the glass the day I was there. Ok, very young students, so they can be forgiven.
I wandered around taking random pictures of whatever caught my eye. What I found interesting though were the people who had come to sit and read, eat their lunch on the benches scattered around the cemetery and just be still in this place of the dead. I was at first cautious about taking pictures, it is after all a cemetery, then I soon realised that it’s more of a tourist attraction now, as I saw visitors armed with their maps, and determined to find the various graves of the famous people they had come to visit.
Some interesting facts about the cemeteries of Paris:
- It was opened in 1804 as part of the French government’s decision to open new cities outside the city – it is NOT the oldest cemetery though, that honour belongs to Le Cimetière des Innocents
- Only two outdoor church burying grounds remain today in the 20 arrondissements; St. Germain-de-Charonne and Le Cimetière du Calvaire.
- In 1786 when the French government made the decision to ban any future burials within the city centre, they also decided to close all existing cemeteries connected to the city’s churches, and to remove all the remains away from the growing urban population.
- The remains of the more than 6 million Parisians removed from the cemeteries, and from nearly all the church burial grounds were moved to an enormous underground warren of tunnels in an old quarry in the south of the city. This is where the Paris Catacombs are to be found.
More pictures, a great deal more here.
Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
16 rue du Repos
|The cemetry has street names|
|The list of the famous people buried here|