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Pere Lachaise Cemetery -Down and Down in Paris

Updated on June 21, 2014
Entrance to Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris
Entrance to Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris | Source
Edith Piaf
Edith Piaf | Source
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Jim Morrison's Grave
Jim Morrison's Grave | Source

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.

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    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      interesting articles, especially for me. One of my jobs for the masons was funerals. From 1999 to 2010, I officiated 247 of them.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thanks Mhatter - glad it was of interest - that's a lot of work! Meanhwhile tourists flock to Pere Lachaise. Best...

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      very intersting write.. im scared of cemeteries though :)

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thanks unknown - I do know what you mean. They seem an odd sort of tourist destination but they attract many visitors - including me I confess. I can't really explain it. Anyway, thanks for being here ...cheers

    • profile image

      Valleypoet 4 years ago

      A fascinating article Maj...I suppose it shouldn't really be a great surprise that so many people visit the graves of those as legendary as Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison...but that said, it is still 'just' a graveyard. I admit though to having, more than once, visited a graveyard just to see the stone of someone famous ( William Wordworth's in Grasmere being one of them)...I wasn't aware of this popular destination however, and is worth considering if I happen to be in Paris some time in the future...another very enjoyable read, thanks Maj..I hope you are well:-))

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hi again Valley, so good to hear from you. I agree, wandering around checking out the deceased rich and famous is bizarre. However, it's also popular and on many a tourist agenda. (recently saw the moscow cemetery) I've paid respects to William also -love the Lake District. Almost time for 'Daffodils' in your corner of the world. Yes all well but extremely hot! I know, shouldn't grumble. Cheers and best...

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 4 years ago

      Hello my friend and how lovely to meet your acquaintance here at the Hub. I am Colin from lake erie time ontario canada 9:30pm and you sound like my idea of a fun date, lol, I would love to drink red wine with a picnic at a cemetary with you.

      How about Highgate Cemetary in London? If unfamiliar with it - just google the name and look for a you tube video because it's so beautiful.

      I certainly love this hub presentation. Actually it's one of my favorities ever and you have given us a world class tour in a very personal way.

      Thank you for so much for your royal endorsement of my humble little hubpage too and coming from someone as delightful and special as you really means a lot to me - sending you warm wishes and good energy and I have a friend from Australia you could check out too - her name is Maria and her hubname is SCRITTOBENE and she's from Melbourne

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      This isn't a place my daughter takes me when I have been in Paris. Sounds fascinating.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      epigramman - thank you for your endorsement - I very much appreciate your stopping by and approving my hub. Yes, I know Highgate cemetery well - I must sound strange! I do visit other places.) My daughter used to live in Muswell Hill not far from Highgate. . I shall certainly check out Maria - Best from australia this hot morning.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      tireless - thank you for your comments - appreciate you stopping by. I guess Pere Lachaise might not appeal to everyone - I do hope you manage a visit next time. Fascinating is right!

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      Interesting hub, one way to get to meet the rich and famous, just as long as they don't want to shake my hand.

      I must admit though there is always a peaceful quietness in cemetries and the birdsong always seems much clearer.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Rosemay - you made me laugh so much - I'd never thought of shaking hands. Heee.

      I honestly don't know either why people flock there - but I did - unfortunately not so quiet during the day with the tribes of tourists swirling around. .

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      I remember visiting Paris as a child and climbing up the Eiffel Tower. The view was outstanding! We went through the Arc De Triomphe too. Thanks for sharing this wonderful write, Travmaj!

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thank you Michelle - Paris is indeed a great city to visit - glad you have, like me, such wonderful memories.

    • Gerard Bianco profile image

      Gerard Bianco 4 years ago from Portland, Maine

      I love the cemeteries of Paris - Pere Lachaise is great. But my all-time fav is The Cemetery of Montmartre.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thank you for this Gerard =haven't visited this one - it's on the list.

    • profile image

      ignugent17 4 years ago

      Interesting hub! I am not really a fan of cemeteries. Thank you for the information you shared. I admire your way of presenting a place of sadness and transforming it to a place of knowledge.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      ignugent - thank you for your comments - much appreciated. I agree - it is indeed an unusual tourist venue and not for everyone - but it is certainly interesting.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      I loved this Hub, the little bits of humour strewed into it, and it sounds very interesting. I love writing about travels too, and have done so. I see by a quick glance that you and I have many like interests, including the fact that I also love Australia. I want to read more of your Hubs.

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Vickiw - happy to see you visited my page - Pere Lachaise is a great place to visit and not as sombre as it perhaps sounds. Thanks again -

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Awesome travmaj! I have always wanted to go to Paris...I even took four years of French (so I'll be prepared)!

      I loved this hub and I just watched the movie "Julie & Julia" with Meryl Streep last night - I bet you would love it if you haven't seen it yet!

      I am a new fan and I hope I can drink some Beaujolis in Paris one day.

      A Votre Sante!

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      RealHouswife - thank you for stopping by, much appreciated. With your four years of French Parisians will love you - it's a city to explore and I do hope you visit one day and drink some Beaujolis - (not necessarily in Pere Lachaise! ) Yes, seen the Julia film - much enjoyed - can't pass by anything with Meryl in it.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Interesting hub, It remembered me the day I visited Jim Morrison's grave some years ago...

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hi Mike - difficult to miss Morrison's grave isn't it? I was quite taken with people asking for directions to plots - 'have you seen Oscar Wilde?' I have no idea what we all want to see - but so many tourists can't be all wrong.

    • WalterPoon profile image

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Travmaj, thanks for writing this hub... I am planning to visit Italy and France, probably next year, and this information is most timely. Moliere, Marcel Proust, Honore de Balzac, and Oscar Wilde, ya? I'll remember that. And who knows, I may get some inspiration from there, LOL.

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Walter - thank you for stopping by - if you go I think you'll find PereLachaise interesting - have a great trip next year.

    • WalterPoon profile image

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Travmaj, I've never heard of PereLachaise before. But Oscar Wilde, yes, while Moliere, Marcel Proust, and Honore de Balzac, I heard of them only recently, while building my own websites.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hello again Walter - it is a cemetery with a difference - great names - and yes, on hub pages, I seem to hear of new and interesting people every day -

    • WalterPoon profile image

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Travmaj, you're right. Père Lachaise Cemetery was opened on 21 May 1804. Going there would be like going back 200 years in time! Thank you for introducing me this place. I've never heard of it before.

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thank you once again Walter - appreciate your comments - hope you get there one day...

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Interesting hub! I'm going to Paris in a few weeks and might get the chance to visit here if I am lucky!

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Flourish - I do hope you manage a visit to Pere Lachaise - but then Paris - I mean, so much to see and do - great city. Enjoy!

    • MJennifer profile image

      Marcy J. Miller 3 years ago from Arizona

      Thoroughly enjoyed this, Travmaj. Wherever I travel, I find myself drawn to the cemeteries -- they're a microcosm of the history of the area and its people. I have photographed countless graves and tombs in cemeteries large, small, public, private. Yet I didn't know that one of my favorite Victorian decadents, Oscar Wilde (for whom I once named one of my favorite horses) was interred in Pere Lachaise! (I did know Jim Morrison was at rest in Paris, though.)

      Lovely hub!

      Best -- Mj

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      M.Jennifer - thank you, the Pere Lachaise is fascinating. Like you I'm often drawn to these places. I appreciate your comment and interest.

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