Paris
Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris –
time travelling through French funeral traditions

Good that the sun is out. I don’t want to be here on a foggy autumn morning – on the Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris.

It was more than 35°C in Paris and we were looking for a space that was a little cooler, with a few trees maybe… what we found was the Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris with its shaded and quiet paths.

Well, a visit to a cemetery is maybe not exactly what one does on a city trip. But this cemetery is special, not only because it is the largest one in Paris.

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris

The history of the Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris

Due to an edict that prohibited graves on churchyards within the city walls, new cemeteries had to be established in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century. Future cemeteries were to be state governed and outside of the boundaries of the city. In 1803 the Seine prefect purchased a vast area of gardens to the east of Paris. The area was enlarged, re-designed and renamed after the Jesuit pater François d’Aix de Lachaise (1624–1709). Lachaise used to be the father confessor of Louis XIV.

The concept for the overall structure of the cemetery was designed by an architect who inserted big axes throughout. He had originally planned some monument graves as well but only one of those was ever realised.
The first funeral on the cemetery took place on the 21st of May 1804.

Today, the cemetery measures 44 hectares and is home to 69000 graves. Space on the cemetery is not exclusively for famous people. Anyone who can afford it can be buried here. The price for a permanent grave in 2012 was 13430€. There are no fixed rules for the design of an individual grave.

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris
Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris – time travelling through French funeral traditions

What is so special about the cemetery?

I have never seen a cemetery quite like this.

Wide paths lead to spacious areas in which the graves are arranged in rows. Due to the fact that everyone is free to design their grave to their own desires, a visit to the cemetery is almost like visiting a museum. Small and large mausolea can be seen here. Graves with small huts on them. Statues in all shapes and sizes.

This is travelling through the history of French burial traditions.

Walking down some of the paths evoked thoughts of horror movies pretty much immediately.
Run down, weathered graves that look like small houses. Thoughts of crawling fog, darkness and shivers down my spine took over despite the bright sunshine on that day. This is pure inspiration for set designers.
We stopped at many graves and pondered why a particular design was chosen and who the deceased person must have been for their families to make certain decisions. Why does one build a pyramid or a large chimney on a grave? Who are the sometimes huge statues on the graves? Depictions of the dead?

And even the younger graves tell a tale about the deceased. We came across the grave od Berhard Verhac by accident. Berhard Verhac was a victim of the Islamist terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo publishing house.

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris
Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris
Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris

But what drives the most visitors in are the headstones of famous people. We, too, kept our eyes peeled for those. But since we came without any plan or guide whatsoever, finding those wasn’t easy even though there are many signs and maps sprinkled throughout the park. When we did find the graves of two famous people they turned out to be more subtle than most of the others. We found the graves of Edith Piaf and Gilbert Becaud.

On our next visit we will bring a map and go on a more focussed quest for famous graves.

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris
Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris

Address:

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
16, Rue du Repos
75020 Paris

Opening Hours:

November to mid-March
Monday to Friday: 08.00 – 17.30
Saturday: 08.30 – 17.30
Sunday and on Bank Holidays: 09.00 – 17.30
Mid-March to Oktober
Monday to Friday: 08.00 – 18.00
Saturday: 08.30 – 18.00
Sunday and on Bank Holidays: 09.00 – 18.00

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris
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11 Comments

  1. Melody Pittman on 11. May 2019 at 15:33

    Wow. I love touring cemeteries and reading the names aloud of those who have been buried for a long time. Père Lachaise looks like a perfect place to do that. I just got back from Paris and wish I would have known about it. Some of the most beautiful tombstones/headstones I’ve ever seen.



  2. Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions on 10. May 2019 at 6:49

    What an incredible gem! That’s so interesting that these gravestones basically reflect people’s own interests as well as the styles of the time period. Your pictures also make this cemetery look like such a calm and quiet place to visit. Thanks for sharing!



  3. Yukti on 9. May 2019 at 21:49

    I never knew about Pere Lachaise cemetry in Paris but after reading your post, I would surely go for it when I visit Paris. I too agree that walking along here would be like going through a horror movie.



  4. Heather on 7. May 2019 at 22:10

    Cemeteries have really come on my radar lately. This one reminds me of the ones I’ve seen in New Orleans and most recently in Recoleta in Buenos Aires. But both of these are French-influenced so that isn’t surprising. I will have to add this to my next visit to Paris and look up the famous graves that are there first. We got to see Evita’s in Buenos Aires!



  5. Candy on 7. May 2019 at 15:38

    This reminded me of the famous Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans. I didn’t get a history of it so I have always wondered about the plots and who designed them. It’s interesting that the one here can be designed to the buyer’s liking.



  6. Susanne Jungbluth on 7. May 2019 at 10:11

    No we missed Chopins grave. But it what a great idea to listen his music there.



  7. Cindy on 7. May 2019 at 7:14

    I didn’t get a chance to visit Père Lachaise Cemetery when I was in Paris, but I think it would be really interesting. As you mention, all of the individual grave markers are fascinating. It’s also interesting to see how the famous graves are marked. I would even go on a foggy morning.



  8. Alison on 7. May 2019 at 5:38

    I love Père Lachaise. After visiting it, I find myself wandering through other graveyards in Paris also… Did you find Chopin’s grave? Often there are musicians playing nearby. Père Lachaise, as you mention, is like walking through French history.



  9. Jenn and Ed Coleman on 6. May 2019 at 1:05

    I loved this article. I have actually been on several cemetery tours to Westminster Abbey, Arlington National Cemetery, and Fort Roscarnes (San Diego), and Day of the Dead in Tijuana. I think the stigma that cemeteries are for the dead is an affront to their design. The living are supposed to visit to keep the memories alive. Your descriptions of Père Lachaise make me want to visit next time I’m in Paris.



  10. Carol Colborn on 5. May 2019 at 4:17

    I love visiting old cemeteries, too. The best one for me was Author’s Ridge in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery of Concord, Massachusetts, where four authors are buried side by side: Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Walde Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.



  11. Helen on 4. May 2019 at 9:41

    I love cemeteries where the graves are all different. I can wander around for hours and I’m so glad I’m not the only person who wonders why people chose the tombstone they did. I love those tilted house-like graves – although I do wonder what happens if they actually ever fall over.



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