04 December 2012

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris

First-timer visitors to Paris often have a checklist of the notable sites they absolutely must visit. It often goes something like this: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Champs-Elysées, Versailles, Notre Dame de Paris, Montmartre and its

Basilica of the Sacré Coeur.

An equally worthwhile site, one that might not seem obvious at first but which draws more than two million visitors per year, is the Père-Lachaise Cemetery located in Paris' 20th district.

Opened in 1804, this 108-acre plot of land is the final resting place for one million people, including many famous artists, musicians, statesmen and other figures of historical significance.

Visiting Père-Lachaise is like strolling through a hilled city with little streets meandering this way and that. The architecture of the cemetery's 70,000 tombs varies greatly from simple stone slabs laid flat to towering and ornate monuments in the Baroque, Gothic and Neo-Byzantine styles.

One could easily spend hours walking the tree-line lanes and exploring the grave sites. If you're on a tight schedule, you can decide "who" you want to see ahead of time. This site gives you a virtual tour of the cemetery, and even has an alphabetical grave index to help you prepare your visit in advance. Otherwise you can obtain a free map of the cemetery from the Conservation office just inside the main entrance on Boulevard de Ménilmontant.

During a recent visit to Père-Lachaise I couldn't resist the temptation to repeat the joke: "People are just dying to get in here". Only later did I find out that there actually is a waiting list as very few plots are available nowadays. It's also expensive - buying a plot in perpetuity will

cost you more than 5,000€ per square meter. And not everyone can "get in"; you must either have died or lived in the French capitol to be buried here.

From 6 November to 15 March, Père-Lachaise is open from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm Monday - Friday, and from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm on Sundays and bank holidays.

The rest of the year the cemetery is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday - Friday, and from 8:30 to 6:00 pm Sundays and bank holidays.

A few of the notable tombstones you can see in Père-Lachaise:

  • Honoré de BALZAC
  • Frédéric CHOPIN
  • Jean de LA FONTAINE
  • Jean-Baptiste MOLIERE
  • Edith PIAF
  • Gertrude STEIN
  • Oscar WILDE
  • Richard WRIGHT

The tombstone of Jim Morrison

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