Pere Lachaise Cemetery -Down and Down in Paris
Visiting the rich and famous - with a difference.
It's a warm summer day in Paris. You have a picnic hamper complete with bottle of Beaujolais. Where are you headed? May I suggest the Pere Lachaise cemetery.
Okay, I know what you're thinking - and no, I'm not joking.
You certainly won't be alone at Pere Lachaise, for two million tourists visit each year – and they’re just the living ones.
The atmosphere is lively and bustling. Lovers stroll and embrace, fans amble in search of the resting-places of artists, authors, singers, politicians. Unreachable in life, now finally accessible. Their fame lingers on in death.
The cemetery opened in 1804. Initially shunned by Parisians, it later became fashionable to buy a plot and now this vast park on the edge of Paris is filled with spectacular sculptures; memorials bearing witness to cultural diversity.
Legends Live On
Tombstones and epitaphs are hauntingly popular. Legends live on here, actors Yves Montand and Simone Signoret resting together again, writers Moliere, Marcel Proust, Honore de Balzac and Collette.
Ironically, upstaging the most revered of the denizens, the gong for the most visited grave goes to rock singer Jim Morrison who died aged 27 in 1971. He outshines the likes of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Callas and Chopin.
Morrison, the former Doors singer, warbledCome on baby light my fire. Initially fans kept that fire burning too brightly. Eager to live up to his reputation for trouble the crowds proved exuberant, converging at his graveside to drink alcohol, smoke pot, and party on, leaving a trail of graffiti in their wake.
Now, full time security guards patrol his plot. Fans, young and old, still make a daily pilgrimage to pay respects and leave him gifts: a cigarette, a flower, a bracelet, a poem.
It's not just the famous who have cult status. The statue of Victor Noir, a dashing young journalist killed in 1870 has become a fertility symbol. Seeking to increase the chances of conception infertile women have rubbed a certain area of the statue to a dull shine.
Oscar Wilde's towering monument features a winged male deity. The figure's penis has been snapped off by overenthusiastic admirers. What would Oscar say? Maybe the words he uttered as he lay dying and spotted the new curtains - 'Either they go or I do.'
On a more sombre note, in the eastern corner of the cemetery is the Communards’ Wall, where 147 members of the Paris commune were shot at dawn inMay 1871, after their final resistance amongst the graves the night before. They were buried were they fell against the wall.
Grab a map and explore
Like most things French, Pere Lachaise has style. It's still a functioning cemetery, and employs over 100 staff for maintenance, restoration, and pruning the 6000 trees spread over the 110-acres (44.5 hectares)
Maps are available to guide you around the illustrious tombs.
Cemeteries are fascinating - documenting a huge gamut of history. Monuments reflect the lifestyles, beliefs, attitudes, and tastes of former generation. This is folklore at its most meaningful – and most meaningful for the tourist too.
Unlike some, we can gloat; for us it’s au revoir and away to our next destination.
Here's a Beaujolais to that.