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Pere Lachaise: Home to Permanent Parisians

1-P1000274After the French Revolution, came the cemetery revolution. Paris' Pere Lachaise cemetery was in the vanguard of this 19th century movement, when small churchyards in expanding cities could no longer hold all the dead--and could no longer be allowed to rest in such valuable real estate, Opened in 1804 on orders from Napoleon, Pere Lachaise is the largest and most famous Paris cemetery.


Moliere's tomb: Jean de la Fontaine is his near neighbor


It wasn't always so. In 1804 the cemetery was thought by many to be too far away; Catholics resisted the idea of an unconsecrated cemetery. The managers solved the problem with a marketing campaign to provide better neighbors. They arranged for the remains of Moliere and LaFontaine, of Heloise and Abelard, and other famous folks to be moved to Pere Lachaise...and soon burials began to increase. Today, there are perhaps 1 million buried there, and as many more in the ossuary and columbarium.


1-P1000269Marketing isn't the big issue, but Pere Lachaise belongs to an elite association of famous cemeteries, many of them displayed here near the entrance


In fact, it's so popular that graves are now leased as well as sold; when the 30-year term is up, if the family doesn't renew the lease, the remains are removed to the ossuary and the grave can be resold.


1-P1000270But Pere Lachaise isn't full only of the famous (and they are there in profusion, from 19th century politicians to painters and composers and on down to Jim Morrison of the Doors. But like other large 19th-century cemeteries, such as Highgate in London, Green-Wood in Brooklyn,  Mount Auburn in Boston, it is its collection of monuments, small and grand, and the insight into changing history that make it a fascinating walk.


1-P1000271The pictures here, taken on a rainy August morning, are by no means a comprehensive collection, especially not of stars but also not of styles.  But you can see here the sentimental styles of the mid-to-late century, classical allusions before that, and an increasingly modern view as we move into the 20th century markers.




As well, there is a political content; the cemetery includes not only the graves of French Presidents, but also the Mur des Federees, the Wall of the Communards. On that spot, 147 were killed at the end of a bloody week as the Commune was suppressed. Nearby are the graves of a number of left-wing leaders, and memorials to the victims and resisters of Nazism.



Memorial to leaders of the armed Resistance fighters of World War II




Below, memorial to the French volunteers who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War.


 In more recent times, modern art has made its appearance among the funereal tributes, including this one.


And a bit of humor, along with more modern sculptor. At the grave of Armand Pierre Arman, painter, sculptor and "man of affairs," a plaque at the foot of the grave proclaims "alone at last!"



It's doubtful that Arman ever really wanted solitude, but here's the grave of a man who lived by his silence: Marcel Marceau.




And finally, the grave of Edith Piaf, who certainly was neither silent nor alone. She rests here along with her father and her second husband.


Additional pictures in the slideshow below. 


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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On the day I visited Pere Lachaise there was an elderly man flamboyantly "tending" Piaf's grave.  Dressed theatrically, with long silver hair, he'd drawn a crowd, as I'm sure was his intent, while pretending to all appearances, that we weren't there.  He circled the stone with over-the-top caring gestures and I wondered if he considered it his "job" to perpetuate the drama of The Little Sparrow.  He was certainly succeeding that day.

PM, we didn't see the Piaf admirer, but the cemetery has quite a few characters in attendance; it can be quite a show. And there are some who will gladly lead you all over...and only tell you at the end that they are expecting to be paid.


We'll probably visit Montmartre cemetery next's a grave commitment... 

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Pheymont, I'm sure you're familiar with Montmartre and know when you're at the cemetery you'll be very close to Rue Lepic and environs, my "home" neighborhood.  If you haven't already, from the cemetery walk east on Blvd Clichy to Rue Lepic, turn left and go uphill, jog right/left at the top onto Rue Tholoze where you'll pass my first Paris home, and on a few steps more to the old moulin of Impressionist fame.  After years and many visits it's still my favorite village and, after trying various other areas, I always return. 

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