On the morning of our last day in Paris, Travis and I visited one last attraction – the Cemetery of Père-Lachaise. After spending three wonderful days exploring the city with our friends, we’d said goodbye to them the night before after our guided tour of the Eiffel Tower. Waking up a bit late, we’d checked out of our Airbnb, caught the Metro to Parking Pyrénées-du-Clos, a garage on the outskirts of the city where we’d left our car, then dropped our bags in the car. From there, the cemetery was less than a 10 minute walk. While our friends were kicked back on a flight bound for the United States, we were strolling among millions of departed souls in the city’s largest cemetery.
Established in 1804, Père-Lachaise was not initially popular. But since that date, over a million people have been buried on the grounds. The remains of another 1-2 million are held in an ossuary in the form of bones and in a columbarium in the form of ashes. As a popular and expensive place to be buried, it’s the final resting place for a number of famous personalities – Jim Morrison, Chopin, Balzac, and Oscar Wilde.
Using a photo of the map we’d taken near the entrance, we set out to find a few of them.
The first famous tomb we found was that of Oscar Wilde, which I was surprised to find rather strangely adorned with a massive statue of a Sphinx, wings splayed in vertical flight. Some speculate that the theme reflects the individual interests of the sculptor, Jacob Epstein, rather than any specific reference to Wilde’s writings.
A popular tomb, thousands visit every year to pay their respects. It’s long since become a tradition for the author’s most hardcore fans to slather on bright lipstick before kissing his tombstone. In an effort to protect it, authorities encased the lower portion of the tomb in Plexiglass, but besotted groupies have merely resorted to climbing the neighboring gravestone to kiss the stone above the glass.
We passed the domed tower of the cemetery’s crematorium, rising like a foreboding omen near the columbarium.
Room after room in the columbarium was filled with row after row of nooks large enough to hold the ashes of the deceased.
Our next discovery was the tomb of Eugène Delacroix. A 19th-century French painter, I’d come to like his style after seeing a number of his paintings at the Louvre.
Buried behind a wall of other tombs, we found the grave of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the American rock band, The Doors. A member of the “27 Club,” Morrison died at the age of 27 under suspicious circumstances, though an autopsy was never done. His body was found in the Paris apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. After inheriting his entire fortune, she died of a heroine overdose less than three years later, aged 27.
I suppose a giant cemetery might not have been the cheeriest place to end our first trip to Paris, but I was glad we had time to visit. The grounds were beautiful and peaceful, a surprising oasis of green calm in the bustling heart of one of the world’s largest cities.
- The cemetery is free.
- Official site for Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
- Animal lovers might prefer a visit to the Cimetière des Chiens, a famous pet cemetery on the western edge of Paris. With over 40,000 pets of all kinds, the most famous grave is likely that of Rin Tin Tin. A German Shepherd rescued from a WWI battlefield in France by an American soldier, the dog later became an internationally acclaimed film star.