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.
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.
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.
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.
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
16, Rue du Repos
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