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Père Lachaise Cemetery

Cimetière du Père Lachaise

Père Lachaise Cemetery photo

ABOVE: A cobblestoned, tree-shaded path in Père Lachaise Cemetery. (The cimetière's 300 to 400 resident cats are off-camera.) INSET BELOW: Jim Morrison of The Doors died in 1971, but the rock star's grave still attracts fans and floral tributes.

Jim Morrison's grave photoThe most famous of 19th Century Parisian cemeteries, Père Lachaise, is also the oldest: It opened more than 200 years ago to cure a grave situation that Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall described eloquently--and graphically--in their book, Permanent Parisians: An Illustrated, Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of Paris:

"The oldest of the existing cemeteries, Père Lachaise, opened in 1804 at the behest of Napoléon (who became emperor the same week). At that point Paris was in desperate need of new burial places. Skeletons protruding from churchyard ground could be seen by passersby, and pressure from the two thousand bodies in Cimetière des Innocents had broken through an adjacent apartment house wall, spewing corpses into its basement. After the scandal broke--and the odor nearly asphyxiated local residents--legislation closed city cemeteries and churchyards to further burials. A quarry south of Paris was opened in 1786 to store the overflow of bones."

To supply Parisians with new cemetery plots, an urban planner and developer named Nicholas Frochot bought land that had belonged to Louis XIV's confessor, Père Lachaise. Frochot promoted the Cemetière d l'Est (as it was called at the time) by seeding the grounds with dead celebrities such as Molière and the legendary French lovers Héloïse and Abélard. (See Wikipedia's article for more Père Lachaise history, including a description of the Communards' Wall where army firing squads shot 147 members of the Paris Commune uprising in 1871.)

tomb photoToday, the Cimetière du Père Lachaise is home to "permanent Parisians"--and a sprinkling of foreigners--from all walks of life, with graves and tombs organized neatly into 97 divisions that are separated by cobblestoned, tree-lined walkways. You can explore the cemetery and look for celebrity graves with the aid of a free map (available in the adminstration building, or conservation) or simply go wandering and enjoy the atmosphere.

For hours of operation and directions to the cemetery, see our Père Lachaise Visitor Information page; for more pictures with captions, go to the Père Lachaise photos on page 3.

Next page: Visitor information, directions


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Related article:
Paris Dog Cemetery: Le Cimetière des chiens d'Asnières-sur-Seine

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