One of the Best Addresses in Paris

It’s long been one of the most desirable and sought after addresses in Paris. Nothing particularly surprising in that – except that its residents are all very much dead. Pere Lachaise cemetery has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the City of Light, attracting as many visitors annually as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.

Pere Lachaise opened its doors, so to speak, in 1804 at the request of Napoleon. At that time, Paris was growing rapidly in population and was desperately short of burial space. Skeletons protruding from burial grounds could actually be seen by people passing by in the street and there were also problems with the stench of corpses.

Nicholas Frochot, an urban planner, purchased an area of land that originally belonged to Louis XIVs confessor, a man called Lachaise. Frochot arranged to have the body of the celebrated French playwright, Moliere, moved to the cemetery. Thus, Pere Lachaise became the resting place of choice – for those who could afford to prepay.

Today, some of the cemetery’s many famous residents include the artist Pissaro, the composer Chopin, the singer Edith Piaf and the writer Oscar Wilde. One notable tombstone has the name of Alice B. Toklas on one side, and that of Gertrude Stein on the other.

Perhaps the most famous grave is that of the rock star Jim Morrison, who died in mysterious circumstances in Paris in 1971. His most famous lyric “no one here gets out alive” seems particularly apt. To find Jim’s final resting place, simply follow the graffiti and the arrows that can be found in the vicinity of his grave. One of the most visited graves is that of the French journalist, Victor Noir. Legend has it that rubbing a certain part of the statue on top of his grave will help to increase fertility.

Many famous and influential figures from French life can also be found here, such as Baron Haussmann who was almost single-handedly responsible for changing the face of Paris, with his grand boulevards and avenues. And fittingly, Frochot, the man who was largely responsible for the success of Pere Lachaise is also buried here.

Pere Lachaise sometimes feels more like a park than a cemetery. Its more than 109 acres are beautifully laid out on sloping ground, with wide avenues dividing up the different sections. Many graves are elaborate and spectacular monuments, with tall columns, stone chapels and fanciful carvings. Many nearby office workers take their picnic lunch in the cemetery and it makes a great place to escape from the noise of the city for a short while.

Despite its famous residents, Pere Lachaise cemetery is situated in the rather unfashionable 20th arrondisement – a melting pot for Paris’s new immigrants. The closest metro stops to the cemetery are Gambretta, Menilmontant or Pere Lachaise. The cemetery is open daily from around 8am to 6pm and admission is free. You can buy a basic map either in the cemetery itself, or purchase a better one at one of the nearby newsstands just outside.

Filed Under: Land travel

Comments (2)

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  1. M. Raynor says:

    I visited Pere Lachaise in September and it was great. It’s a lovely setting and very interesting. The most activity was at the grave of Jim Morrison.

  2. Jackie says:

    In June 2006 my friend Linda and I had on of the most intensive tours of Pere Lachase, by a long curly hair French gentleman, who wore a Jim Morrison tee-shirt. Within one hour we were able to see all the famous residents by taking short cuts through the avenues and monuments. At the end of the tour we bartered for his time and a kiss kiss good-by.

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