A grave necessity: Visiting the past at Père Lachaise

Pere Lachaise, aisle of tombs 2

In Paris, we saw dead people.

I see dead people and so should you!

We’ve visited Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery multiple times. In the fall, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the River City, chock full of brilliant leaves and people in jackets on walks with their children and dogs. In winter, it feels like a place of ultimate peace and quiet.

Knowing all this, Père Lachaise was one of the first stops we made when we arrived. And it was a lovely, low-key way to begin what would end up being a completely whirlwind week.

 

The history of Père Lachaise

Despite not having the highest percentage of famous français beneath its grounds, Père Lachaise is perhaps the most famous cemetery in Paris. It’s also the largest, and its most renowned residents include The Doors’ Jim Morrison, Chopin, Collette, Edith Piaf, Molière, and Proust (among thousands of others) from many other walks of life.

Opened in 1804, Père Lachaise has grown into a true city of death, so to speak. In addition to its HUGE array of crypts, tombs, graves, and other resting places, it also contains numerous war memorials, a famous crematorium, and an ossuary.

 

Why you should visit

Boyfriend Perspective: Big reason? The whole “dead people” thing isn’t as weird as it seems. Plus, some of the monuments and graves are really decayed, which makes for photography as cool as the better-kept places.

For those with a penchant for arts or history, you’re able to pay tribute not just to famous works but to the people behind them.

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Those with an eye for art will find that many of the tombs, especially the oldest ones, look like absolute masterpieces. Many are in a half-creepy-half-elegant state of decay that makes for wonderful photographs.

And those with an appreciation for quiet will certainly find it, if they can arrive early enough to beat the white tennis-shoe-wearing, cargo short crowd 🙂

 

One fun fact (yes, about a cemetery)

Boyfriend Perspective: Make sure you take your lady and a flower on a walk by the monument of Victor Noir, a French journalist from the mid-1800s. His fame didn’t come from his life, but from the urban legend of fertility and sex his depiction in death created when a very generous sculptor gave Mr. Noir’s monument a well endowed package.

According to Wikipedia: “This has made it one of the most popular memorials for women to visit in the famous cemetery. Myth says that placing a flower in the upturned top hat after kissing the statue on the lips and rubbing its genital area will enhance fertility, bring a blissful sex life, or, in some versions, a husband within the year. As a result of the legend, those particular components of the otherwise verdigris (grey-green oxidized bronze) statue are rather well-worn and shiny.”

 

When to visit

One trip is hardly enough time to become experts on timing, but it does appear that the geeneral rules for visiting landmarks hold true for Père Lachaise, as well. Our 8:45am visit – just after opening – meant that we had the place nearly to ourselves.

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When we walked in the front gate, there was a bit of bustle – a guide gathering with a potential tour group, people taking turns at the posted map to see who is buried where, etc. But as we moved further into the cemetery, our only company was a guy on a phone, a woman sketching, a few couples walking along the aisles, and several older ladies looking after various grave sites.

 

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Also published on Medium.

10 Replies to “A grave necessity: Visiting the past at Père Lachaise”

  1. I love visiting cemeteries! They’re so peaceful. Pere Lachaise looks lovely.

    1. They really are! After a long flight, just decompressing with the trees and the sunshine and the beautiful architecture was SO nice 🙂

  2. I visited with my boyfriend earlier this year & it was really interesting. They were actually filming something at Jim Morrison’s grave! It was pretty cool. :]

    1. How neat! I’m glad you had a great visit 🙂

  3. I’d so love to visit this place!! I love such places that give the creeps and are also historically interesting! Plus, the monument of Victor Noir has made it all the more intruguing!!

    1. The neat thing was that it didn’t feel creepy. Some of the abandoned/poorly maintained crypts were a little sad, but the rest is just peaceful and beautiful 🙂

  4. LOVE this! I’ve visited before but never saw the fertility grave nor prousts or Edith’s ! Now I def need to go back. Thank u for highlighting!!!
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    1. We didn’t see half the things/memorials we wanted to, honestly. Will definitely need to make a return visit, too!!

  5. You know, in all my visits to Paris I’ve never made it to the cementary. I think it’s going to the top of my list for my next visit. Thanks!

    1. It doesn’t seem like a regular touristy thing to do – like, dead people, weird, right? But just the history that Père Lachaise and some of the other cemeteries in the area have make them totally worth it.

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