A visit to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have chosen to visit a cemetery but in this case, I’d have missed a gem! Ostensibly heading to the Marais – totally in the opposite direction –  from lunch in 11th, my beloved made it sound as if this impromtu visit was his intention all along!

The cemetery takes its name from King Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François d’Aix de La Chaise. It’s the most prestigious and most visited necropolis in Paris. Situated in the 20th arrondissement, it extends to 44 hectares (110 acres) and contains 70,000 burial plots. It was the first garden cemetery, as well as the first municipal one in Paris. It is also the site of three WWI memorials.

The cemetery is a mix between an English park and a shrine. All funerary art styles are represented: Gothic graves, Haussmanian burial chambers, ancient mausoleums, a columbarium and crematorium etc. etc. A number of famous people are buried here but I confess to not spotting the graves of Honoré de Balzac, Guillaume Apollinaire, Frédéric Chopin, Colette, Jean-François Champollion, Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Jim Morrison, Alfred de Musset, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro or Oscar Wilde, to name just a few.

Père Lachaise is still accepting new burials however it’s not an easy place to secure a plot. I overheard a guide explaining to a group of tourists that you can only be buried there if you die in the French capital or if you lived there. Allegedly few plots are available but I spotted one or two. The grave sites range from a simple, unadorned headstone to towering monuments and even elaborate mini family chapels about the size and shape of a telephone booth, with just enough space for a mourner to step inside, kneel to say a prayer, and leave some flowers.

The cemetery manages to squeeze an increasing number of bodies into a finite and already crowded space. It does this by combining the remains of multiple family members in the same grave. At Père Lachaise, it is not uncommon to reopen a grave and inter another coffin. Some family mausoleums or multi-family tombs contain dozens of bodies, often in several separate but contiguous graves. Shelves are usually installed to accommodate their remains.

During relatively recent times, the cemetary has adopted the standard practice of issuing 30-year leases on grave sites, so that if a lease is not renewed by a family, the remains can be removed, space made for a new one, and the overall deterioration of the cemetery minimised. Abandoned remains are boxed, tagged and moved to Aux Morts Ossuary, in the cemetery.

Although some sources incorrectly estimate the number interred at around 300,000 in Père Lachaise, according to the official website of the city of Paris, over one million people have been buried there. Along with the stored remains in the Aux Morts Ossuary, the number of human remains exceeds 2–3 million – that’s a lot of bones! In addition, there are many more in the Columbarium, which holds the remains of those who opted for cremation.

We only strolled around a very small part of the cemetery but it was surprisingly peaceful and rather serene. I’d happily return for a more expansive tour. Who knows I might even find the resting place of one of those famous names above!

55 thoughts on “A visit to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

  1. I love this cemetery! I doubt we could get away with “stacking’ families together in the states. I used to work for a funeral home conglomerate – what an interesting business!

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  2. I don’t usually seek out cemeteries while traveling yet sometimes they are worth a visit – the stories they can tell and emotions they can evoke are absolutely amazing. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 😀

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  3. I went looking for the grave of the playwright Beaumarchais, and I think I found it, but the inscription was quite weathered so I’m not really sure.
    The cemetery is beautiful, but the man it was named after, Father François d’Aix de La Chaise, was apparently a dreadful bigot who convinced Louis XIV to step up his persecution of the Protestants.

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  4. I went there a couple of years ago when in Pais supporting Mrs B2W on the marathon to see Jim Morrisons grave. I was surprised and pleased to see that Maurice Merleau-Ponty was buried there so paid him a visit. I thanked him for his work and the distinction for my Masters dissertation!

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  5. Great photos, such diverse burial sites! I enjoy a good cemetery wander and was surprised at some of the historical figures you mentioned who are buried there. After reading Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders, I wondered if they chatted to each other before settling down 🙂

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  6. Wow history is always amazing. The Gothic style designs make it glorious even for today’s generations. I never been there or in any cemetery in eu for sure. Pictures are amazing and extremely good post and history never dies.

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  7. I don’t do it often, but I actually like an occasional walk through the cemetery. It is peaceful. I sometimes wonder about the person’s life who has ended. But it’s sad when I see graves for children and babies. Great pictures! 😊

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  8. That looks like a great place to visit, cemeteries can be very interesting and many are very park like. We have a beautiful cemetery here, lots of trees and benches around. Families can be stacked together in a plot here as well. Great tour Sheree!🙂😺

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