Oh Paris, you make everything beautiful. Even your final resting places are filled with wondrous works of art and backdrops that stun.
The 210-year-old Père Lachaise cemetery, established by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, is located in the 20th Arrondissement and is a quick Metro ride from the city center of Paris. Not only is it a place to pay your deepest respects but a gorgeous park-like “garden” cemetery to stroll and take in the architectural elements on an autumnal day in the city of light.
Père Lachaise is filled with some of France’s most famous artists, writers, singers, actors and sculptors along with a few stragglers from other countries. Most notably Irish writer Oscar Wilde and American Jim Morrison of The Doors. But you will also find physicians, scientists and engineers, as well as every day citizens before rules for internment changed, revered here as well as five World War I memorials. These days there a few available spots regardless if you’re an artist or a soldier.
The act of leaving a kiss seems to be the favorite form of respect for beloved Irish writer Oscar Wilde. It has since been encased in glass as the red lipstick began to damage the facade of the modern grave.
A pilgrimage for some (counting myself) includes finding the grave of Jim Morrison. Carefully tucked between and behind a number of others hasn’t hidden him yet! Originally there was a bust on top but it was stolen many years ago. Today fans leave flowers, candles and trinkets for Mr. Mojo Rising. (The biggest crowd was here…)
Long stone paths and black crows are commonplace in this grand old graveyard. Patches of moss cover the long-ago-visited while brightly-colored flowers adorn others.
Rows of mausoleums, some locked tight and others open to the elements, line the old cobblestone walkways.
The day we visited was fraught with funereal weather, apropos of the scene. One minute blazing blue skies, the next clouds of doom chased us under the eaves of another mausoleum. Ah, October in Paris. It certainly makes the crows’ onyx coat look all the more glossy. (You may spy a few ethereal-looking spots on my photographs. Fear not the mighty raindrop.)
We ran into a man with little teeth but great knowledge of the cemetery’s residents. He gladly pointed us in the direction of his favorite historical members and became quite excited to learn we were from New York City. You never know, you just might make a friend at Père Lachaise!
Here are some of the notables buried here:
Writers Honoré de Balzac, Colette, Molière, Marcel Proust and Jean de Brunhoff. Singers Maria Callas and Édith Piaf; Composers Frédéric Chopin and Georges Bizet.
Painters, oh so many painters Eugene Delacroix, Max Ernst, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Amedeo Modigliani and Camille Pissarro; Glass artist Rene Lalique;
Father of the Paris Métro, Fulgence Bienvenüe.
American dancer Isadora Duncan, actress Sarah Bernhardt, writers Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
But the best part of exploring is never knowing whom you might find.
Tip: The Métro stop is technically Philippe Auguste/Père Lachaise on line 2 as it is next to the main entrance, instead get off at the Gambetta station on line 3, as it allows you to walk downhill when visiting the 110-acre cemetery.