Visiting a cemetery is probably not the first thing you think of when planning a trip to Paris. Would I be right? But I would actually recommend a visit to the Père Lachaise Cemetery – it’s beautiful, it’s tranquil. It has some amazing, hauntingly beautiful statues and some cool celebrity gravesites to discover too.
As I strolled around the cemetery, I loosely followed the map of Pere Lachaise Cemetery that I had downloaded at the entrance to the cemetery. I just wanted to be sure that I at least saw some of the famous graves.
And when I say loosely followed, I mean very loosely followed, partly because the font was so small on my phone, I couldn’t actually read the map. But I enjoyed meandering off the guided path and strolling along the winding cobbled streets that crisscrossed the cemetery’s slopes. I’d stop to admire the many elaborate statues, family chapels and memorials that range from medieval Gothic to modern-day granite slabs.
Famous People Buried In Pere Lachaise Cemetery
There are a lot of famous people buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Here are some of their graves that I found as I wandered around:
Jim (James Douglas) Morrison: 1943-1971
Tucked away in the corner of the cemetery, if it weren’t for a crowd of people surrounding his grave, this one would have been tricky to find. Jim Morrison was the charismatic American frontman of The Doors. He died in Paris at the age of 27. Despite no autopsy, his death was recorded as heart failure, although many suspected he had died from an accidental heroin overdose.
Fifty years on since his death, Jim Morrison’s grave continues to be one of the most visited sites in Père Lachaise. On his tombstone, there’s a bronze plaque with a Greek phrase chosen by his father, KATA TON DAIMONA EAUTOU: “True to his own spirit” or “True to his own demons.”
Edith Piaf: 1915-1963
I wanted to find Edith Piaf’s grave. I love the song La Vie en Rose and always find myself humming it as I roamed around Paris. Just about every Parisian street musician plays this tune, and it just brings back happy memories of walks alongside the River Seine from past travels.
Louis-Sébastien Gourlot: 1778-1816
I don’t really know who this guy was, but I just loved this striking stone and golden-tinted plaster statue of his widow. It just stood out amongst all the greys of the nearby memorials.
Oscar Wilde: 1854-1900
A glass barrier surrounds Oscar Wilde’s Egyptian themed tomb. The inspiration for the grave comes from this poem by Oscar Wilde.
Wilde fled to Paris after his release from prison in Britain for “gross indecency with men” and died three years later from meningitis.
The barrier was put up in 2011 to protect the tomb as visitors used to cover the grave with lipstick kiss marks, and the constant cleaning of the tomb was causing it to degrade.
Frédéric Chopin: 1810-1849
The Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin suffered from poor health for most of his short life. Euterpe, the muse of music, watches over his grave.
Gioacchino Rossini: 1792-1868
Rossini was an Italian composer famous for his operas, such as Otello, The Barber of Seville, and William Tell. During the 1820s, he wrote operas for the Paris Opera. Every Saturday, he would hold popular musical salons that were attended by many musicians and artists such as Guiseppe Verdi, Franz Liszt, and Joseph Joachim.
Victor Noir: 1848-1870
Victor Noir was a journalist killed by Prince Pierre Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon and cousin of Emperor Napoleon III.
The prince shot Victor Noir following a dispute between two newspapers that included the one where Noir worked. The court acquitted the prince of murder, which led to violent demonstrations on the streets. A few months later, the Emperor’s unpopular regime was overthrown during the Franco-Prussian War.
Sculptor Jules Dalou created the life-size bronze sculpture of Victor Noir to make it look as though he has just fallen in the street. According to legend, rubbing the slight bulge in Noir’s trousers provides fertility benefits and has made this grave one of the more popular ones in the cemetery. Before you ask, no, I didn’t.
Bernard Verlhac (Tignous) 1957 – 2015
Bernard Verlhac was a French cartoonist for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Sadly, in January 2015, he was taken hostage during the Charlie Hebdo shooting and murdered as part of a series of terror attacks in Paris at the time.
Interesting Père Lachaise Cemetery Facts
When Did Père Lachaise Cemetery Open?
It might look old, but this cemetery only opened in 1804.
Why was Père Lachaise Cemetery built?
By the 1700s, the Paris graveyards had completely run out of space. This lack of space meant that bodies were being buried in mass graves with pits up to 65 feet deep with as many as 1,500 other corpses.
The churches owned the graveyards, and despite the stench of decomposing bodies, they continued to resist the mandates by Louis XVI to build new burial grounds beyond the Paris city walls because they made good money from the burials.
However, in 1780, a wall collapsed under the weight of decaying bodies at the then city’s most significant and oldest burial site, Les Innocents Cemetery. The decomposing remains spilt into the basement of a nearby house and killed some of the occupants.
The bones were then taken to the Paris Catacombs, and the partially decomposed corpses were boiled to separate the bones from fat, which was then used to make candles and soap!
So from then on, all new burials took place in Paris’s three new municipal burying grounds that were located outside of the city: Montmartre in the north, Montparnasse in the south, and Père Lachaise in the east.
How Many Bodies Are Buried At Pere Lachaise?
There are around 70,000 tombs, but the City of Paris estimates that approximately one million people have been buried at Pere Lachaise in the past two hundred years.
Why Are There More Buried Bodies Than Tombs?
Within the cemetery, many family tombs contain the bones of multiple relatives.
Also, the Aux Morts ossuary is believed to contain around a million skeletons and at least another million people from cremated remains.
Is Père Lachaise A Catholic Cemetery?
No. Père Lachaise was established by Napoleon as a non-sectarian in 1804, decreeing “every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion. “
Why Are There So Many Famous People Buried In Père Lachaise Cemetery?
When Père Lachaise Cemetery first opened, it wasn’t that popular. The French Roman Catholics wanted to be buried on consecrated ground near a church. In 1894, the cemetery was known as the Cimetière de l’Est. In order to attract bodies, the name was changed to Father Francois d’Aix de la Chaise (King Henry XIV’s Jesuit confessor, which they shortened to Père Lachaise) to make it sound to Roman Catholics that the cemetery was on consecrated ground. It’s not.
Then the remains of some carefully chosen famous dead people were relocated to Père Lachaise, such as Abélard and Héloise, the star-crossed lovers who died in 1142 and 1164, respectively.
Abélard and Héloise. A Medieval Love Story
The passionate love affair between Héloise and Abélard began when Abélard became Héloise’s teacher, and they both fell in love. When Héloise’s uncle discovered their secret marriage, he exploded with rage and forced them to live apart for the rest of their lives -Heloise in a nunnery and Abelard as a monk. They were reunited years later after their death when their remains were dug up and reburied next to one another in 1817 in this beautiful canopy tomb.
From 1817 onwards, many wealthy Parisians longed to be buried in one of the now coveted plots at Père Lachaise. The power of good marketing, eh?
Can One Still Be Buried In Père Lachaise Cemetery?
Yes, Père Lachaise is still an active cemetery, but available burial plots are scarce.
These days to qualify for a plot, Paris must be your permanent home. Dying in Paris and being famous like Jim Morrison is no longer enough. And it’s expensive. You can’t buy a plot in advance, and there are no waiting lists; you just have to hope there’s a spot available.
Rules For Visiting Pere LaChaise Cemetery
Even though the cemetery is a popular attraction for locals and tourists, Père Lachaise is still an active cemetery, not a park or open-air museum.
This means no music, loud noises, or enjoying a picnic between the tombs.
No walking the dog.
No jogging, no running.
Stick to the paths as you walk around.
Don’t step on the graves.
Don’t do gravestone rubbings.
Wear comfortable walking shoes, as you will be walking on cobblestones and uneven terrain.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery?
It’s free to enter.
Do I Need A Guide To Visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery?
Guided tours are available. I was going to do one just so I knew where the famous graves were, but it was cancelled last minute. Actually, in the end, I enjoyed walking around by myself. It’s a beautiful cemetery, and I could take my time wandering around.
Recommended Podcast For Visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Several readers have recommended using the Rick Steves audio walking tours for visiting Pere Lachaise and other parts of Paris. Why not check them out?
Are There Toilets At Pere Lachaise Cemetery?
There are toilets at all the entrances.
Where Can I Find A Map Of Pere Lachaise Cemetery?
There are no longer paper maps available at the cemetery, but there is a QR code at the entrances so that you can download a map to your phone. But you will need good eyesight to read it, though!
However, if you don’t have a map, you will know when you have come across a celebrity grave – just look for a crowd of people with cameras.
Opening Hours For Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Opens at 08:00 Monday-Friday
08:30 on Saturday and 09:00 on Sunday.
Closes at 17:30 from November through mid-March.
Closes at 18:00 from mid-March through October.
– The last admission is 15 minutes before closing.
Note that the cemetery is closed on the following dates:
1 January, Easter, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, 1 May, 8 May Whitsunday, Whit Monday, 14 July, 15 August, 1 November, 11 November, and Christmas Day.
Pere LaChaise Cemetery closes whenever there is a strong wind, ice, snow, or other extreme weather.
How Do I Get To Pere Lachaise Cemetery?
The easiest way to get to Pere Lachaise Cemetery is on the Paris metro. If you arrive on line 3, don’t get off at the obvious stop Pere Lachaise; instead, get off at the next stop Gambetta. Why? The cemetery is on an incline, so if you enter from the Gambetta side, you start at the top and stroll downhill. But if you enter from the Pere Lachaise side, it’s all uphill.
You can also take metro line 2 and get off at either Pere Lachaise or Phillips-Auguste station.
The cemetery is clearly signposted from the metro and is just a short walk away.
Buses 60,69, and 102 stop outside the cemetery.
Have you ever visited a cemetery when you travel? Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires was fantastic to see, too. Gosh, that seems like a long time ago now. Anyway, a cemetery is probably not your first choice of place to visit, but do tell us about your cemetery experiences in the comments below. And if you enjoyed the cemetery, you will probably enjoy visiting the Paris Catacombs too.
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