In an earlier post I discussed the importance of green spaces for our mental & physical wellbeing. But greenspaces also provide a wonderful environment for commemorating & honoring those who are no longer of this world. The Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris is one such place. Located in the 20th arrondisement, it is the largest cemetery in Paris with over 1 million interments! It is also set on quite a hilly part of Paris with beautiful treed walkways & winding stone paths. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A8re_Lachaise_Cemetery].
Many of the tombs & graves are very old – dating back to when the cemetery was first opened in 1804! Nature persists in working its way around all the stonework…
… & the sound of the birds singing in the trees at this time of year is really beautiful.
The variety & diversity of the graves & tombs is really staggering & there are some really unusual embellishments on some of the memorials.
What attracts more than 3.5 million visitors to the cemetery every year are the many famous individuals who are interred there. So many writers, artists, composers, singers, actors & culinary greats repose there including Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Molière, Marcel Proust, James Morrison & many, many others. Some of the graves are quite hard to find – locating them becomes an adventure, as they are designated as being in a particular area of the cemetery & some of those areas are quite large… I tried to find Amadeo Modigliani’s grave – one of my all-time favorite artists – but did not succeed. But no matter, that search will be continued on another visit… But here is who we did find: René Lalique – whose grave was decorated by an exquisite piece of sculpted glass – as you would expect for a tribute to the famous glass artist & designer… [https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Lalique]
… we also found the graves of Colette – French Nobel prize in Literature winner in 1948 [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colette], Polish composer Frédéric Chopin [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Chopin] & Gioachino Rossini [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gioachino_Rossini] among others.
Some people prefer to have a guided tour of the cemetery. This can take some of the guesswork out of finding some of the graves: the maps of Père Lachaise are somewhat funky as there are a number of official versions of them – I have yet to find one that lists all the notable people who are interred there. I had downloaded a number of them [by profession] & decided beforehand which ones to look for.
As I already mentioned the graves can be hard to find as they can be quite unobtrusive. The tours are certainly very informative – I eavesdropped on a couple of them as we snaked our way between the tombs. There are also those who wander around approaching people with offers to find particular graves – for the right price…
The image above shows the combined tomb of Héloïse & Abélard. This 12th century story of these two lovers & scholars is a long & complicated one, but is famous for an enduring love despite a separation of many years. Apparently they were eventually interred together at Père Lachaise centuries later as a result of an action by Marie Antoinette [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A9lo%C3%AFse] [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Abelard]
Overall, a visit to Père Lachaise is a huge step into French history – the tombs give something very tangible to it & make you wonder about the life & the times of the individuals in question & also those who buried them there. Makes you turn to the history books as well. This is a place I definitely plan to come back to on subsequent visits to Paris.