Paris has a few big cemetaries, but Pere Lachaise is the oldest one and the biggest one. 69 000 people buried and 3.5 million visitors per year. Not macabre at all, it has been the place elected by the famous and the romantic for their eternal rest. Many celebrities, geniuses and Statesmen rest in peace there. Even singer-actress Cher already bought a concession there, to ensure she would be buried in Paris.
In this season, Allsaints Day coming (equivalent for Chinese people of the Tomb Sweeping Festival ( Qing Ming Jie) in April) , it is a good moment to take a walk at the Pere Lachaise and admire. Let’s wander along the alleys….
The most exciting part of the cemetary is the oldest part, the 19th century part. Pere Lachaise was a huge improvement since cemeteries used to be creepy and messy places where homeless Parisians would stay. Visiting Lachaise is like making a journey of 150 years of history, arts, sciences, fashion, architecture, remembering all those who made Paris the capital of the world.
One of the most famous shrine at Lachaise is the one dedicated to Heloise and Abelard, the French Romeo and Juliette. It is quite close to the main entrance gate. Abelard was one of the greatest literature and philosophy profesors of his time….12th century. He fell in love with Heloise, a young and weel-read lady who mastered Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Abelard arranged to be his teacher and the two of them fell madly in love, to such an extent that they married in secret and had a son.
Heloise’uncle , Fulbert, was infuriated when he discovered the whole affair. In those days, scholars were expected to be celibate. Abelard and Heloise were separated and each of them finished their lives in monasteries, Heloise near Paris and Abelard somewhere in Eastern France. Thanks to 19th century romantic fans, the lovers were eventually reunited … in 1870 at the Pere Lachaise in a beautiful shrine you can admire. Symbol of eternal love and passion, many remain fascinated by Heloise and Abelard’s story. They are often compared to German Tristan and Isolde or Italian Romeo and Juliette.
Some people still nowadays like to bring a rose to their grave. You can admire the beautiful « gisants » ( sculptures of the dead, usually praying) . carved in white marble. Even nown there is an association looking after the shrine.
Another romantic person buried in the Pere Lachaise, Polish pianio genius Frederic Chopin was buried in Paris, the city where he loved so much George Sand, the famous female French writer, the first lady to ever dare to wear trousers. Admire the beautiful mourning muse scuplture on his grave.
Painters ( Delacroix, Pissarro) , musicians and singers ( Chopin, Gainsbourg, Piaf, Callas, Montand, Morrison) , writers ( Balzac, Colette, Proust, Wilde, Baudelaire), so many famous artists have been buried in Lachaise. You may feel quite dizzy when you see the map. The tradition has continued up to now. For instance, Serge Gainsbourg, author of the famous » Je t’aime moi non plus » song, is there.
Maria Callas used to be at the colombarium building. The opera diva died of sorrow in Paris after billionaire Aristote Onassis dropped her suddenly to marry Jackie Kennedy. She never recovered of such betrayal. Her ashes have been spread in the Aegean Sea so she is not at Lachaise any more.
Songstress Edith Piaf is also in Lachaise. She was buried in a simple and modern style marble grave, her husband, Theo Sarapo , a young hairdresser, did not have much money since he needed to pay back her debts. He worked hard and manage to pay back all her debts. And he never had a kiss and tell book published like so many widowers.
In Lachaise, the celebrities tombs are not always the most fascinating. Walk around and admire unknown people’s graves. Reading their epitaph, you may discover that in their days they used to be famous doctors, scientists, scholars, inventors. Forgotten heroes.
Some may be afraid that cemeteries are creepy, well, it’s not the case here. My dad usually dreads such places, and he actually loved it. Some may just consider it as a big park where they can wander and explore at their own pace or with a guide. Lachaise guided tours thrive nowadays. Many young people.enjoy taking a good walk through the alleys. It is especially beautiful in November with all the Allsaints flowers.
At the entrance, the guards will give you a map with all the famous tombs. It can take 2 hours + to visit all this.
Some tombs remain much visited because they are quite » special » in their own way.
Famous 19th century psychic, Allan Kardec’s is one of the most visited tombs in Lachaise. Some even say it is the most visited tomb. Full of flowers all year long, people go there to touch the pillars, the statue and to ask favours such as having a baby for instance. Allan Kardec is the father of spiritism. 30 millions Brasilians follow him. I went there and felt some energy vibes. I believe there is really some energy field around the tomb. You’ll be surprised by the number of people going there to pray to Kardec. The official ritual Kardec indicated before passing away is to touch his neck and make your wish. If it comes true, bring him flowers to thank him. When you see the nr of flowers there, you bet wishes have been granted.
A friend of mine who is a psychic healer told me it is even better to go there on sunny days. The energy will be even more radiant.
Countess Demidoff ‘s shrine ( above) is a very big and impressive piece of architecture on a hill of the Lachaise. Allegedly a strange lady, she was considered weird and possibly a vampire by some. Nobody knows who she is now, but this beautiful building remains something quite unforgettable. It looks like a royal tomb.
Rich families used to be buried at the Lachaise, they could afford beautiful marbles with exquisite pieces of art. There is always a surprise around any corner of the cemetery.
There are funny things too at the Lachaise. See Republican journalist Victor Lenoir’s grave. He was assassinated by Napoleon III and the sculptor created a bronze gisant that amused some passers-by…as you can see on the picture above.
Another grave that excite fans is Jim Morrison’s. Fans come from all around the world to visit the Doors frontman who died at 27 like Hendrix and Winehouse…Some even hide at night to remain there and do magic rituals. Weird and troublesome for the neighbouring graves, as some fans step on them so they can reach their idol’s.
Whatever you seek at Lachaise, stars, architecture, nostalgia, peace, poetry, history, not to worry, you are likely to find it somewhere somehow…and probably more than that. Just take the metro and alight at Philippe Auguste station on line 2 or Pere Lachaise station. Beware, the main entrance is now the only one open all day long. Due to anti terrorism measures, most secundary doors open only early in the morning or at the end of the afternoon.
On winter, it will close at 17.30 , and you cannot enter after 17.00.
To save time, go to Philippe Auguste station to be near the Main Gate.
Bilingual official website : http://www.pere-lachaise.com/