Paris is often associated with the proverbial hustle and bustle of famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Notre Dame cathedral. However, there is another side to Paris, as chronicled in Travel Wonders’ own Hidden Wonders of Paris and we find that sometimes some truly interesting wonders of a given city get pushed into the background when compared to the might of the aforementioned world-famous monuments, landmarks and tourist “must see” spots. Such is the case with this glorious cemetery, testament to not only the past of Paris, but the history of the world in that some of the world’s most famous produced of Art (be it music, dance, poetry or thought) are entombed here.
When bringing up the Père Lachaise, one often finds that it’s mentioned in conjunction with phrases like “I meant to go there, but didn’t have time”, “there’s this place where famous people are buried…what was it called?”, “I never thought of going there” or even “I didn’t know about it”. Despite the general lack of public – at least outside of France – awareness of this unique Parisian locale, it is nonetheless an important and worthwhile place to visit, both in terms of historic and aesthetic value.
The cemetery itself houses such distinguished luminaries as Molière (French playwright), Oscar Wilde (Irish playwright, poet and novelist), Chopin (Polish pianist and composer) and Jim Morrison (American singer with band The Doors). So as you can see, the residents of this Paris cemetery are certainly cosmopolitan by nature, with this being but the smallest selection of those at rest there, which numbers around 300,000.
Allegedly also one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, it’s situated on Boulevard de Ménilmontant and is easily accessible via the city Métro, with two different stops at different entrances to the cemetery, allowing for varied approaches, depending on how you feel (one particular stop is preferred, as it tends to allow tourists to enter relatively near the grave of Oscar Wilde and from there, visit the rest of the cemetery.
The cemetery has been “active” for the past 200 or so years, having been established in 1804 by Napoleon. Being located in the east of Paris (as the original/official name, cimetière de l’Est, or East Cemetery, serves to indicate), there was concern over the fact that because it was far (in those days) away from the heart of Paris, it was attracting too few burials for it to be a viable place to have a funeral. This lead to an extensive and risky marketing strategy (marketing for a cemetery, imagine that) which involved the relocation of several high profile cemetery “residents” from elsewhere in Paris right into the Père Lachaise. Subsequently, people were dying (oh dear) to get into the place, to be buried with the social elite of France. Thusly, a cemetery legend was born.
Père Lachaise also has a unique aesthetic appeal to it, with its cobblestone “streets”, fine examples of tomb/gravestone architecture and artistry, all the while interspersed with plentiful flora. It might be a cliché to suggest that the place is peaceful, or has a peaceful aura about it, but in this case the cliché rings true. For there amongst the monuments and testaments to lives past and relatively present, man can experience the chill of mortality as he is reminded that one day he too will be consigned to such a final resting place, wherever it may be.