I’m not a big fan of graveyards but one day, after a very long walk through the Parisian streets, I arrived in front of the entrance to the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery. I had never visited it before repeating that, among the things to see in Paris, there are many that celebrate life to visit this “small” city of the dead.
If you thought the same thing … you will have to change your mind!
There is no need to exaggerate to say that the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris is very beautiful. Monuments, flowers, white walkways, incredible statues, and many memories will bring you during the walk to discover the most important men of France and beyond.
If you don’t know what to see in Paris on a gloomy day, the leaden clouds will certainly convince you that the atmosphere is really too perfect to visit this famous graveyard. There is no better time to go among the tombs of the Père-Lachaise.
Think you can even take a guided tour in English.
Despite being a cemetery, visiting Père-Lachaise will let you discover a number of beautiful monuments that have made it one of the most visited attractions in the city of Paris.
The beauty of some graves is truly impressive, as the sweetness and delicacy of others. Walking through the narrow streets of the Père-Lachaise cemetery I began to discover how a burial place has become a sort of city park. A place to walk in total relax and where photos, dates, and portraits will tell you moments of the lives of those who inhabited this land before us.
But that’s enough with the preambles, below I’ll tell you the 5 + 1 tombs to see in Père-Lachaise, all the practical information with route maps and some interesting facts.
Want to know more?
Index of topics
1 – The tomb of Gericault
As an art historian, I could not write an article about the most beautiful tombs in Père-Lachaise without mentioning at least one of the greatest French artists.
Surely you will remember Gericault for the painting “Le Radeau de la Méduse”, now preserved in the Louvre in Paris. And it is precisely his most famous work that is depicted on one of the sides of his funeral monument.
Above, instead, there is the statue of the artist with a color palette in his hand, made by the sculptor Etex. The realism of the statue is particularly evident because Etex represented him as it was after Gericault had been paralyzed due to a bad fall from a horse.
On the sides of the monument you can find, in addition to the “Le Radeau de la Méduse”, two other important works by the artist, namely “The officer of the cavalry on charge” and the “Wounded cuirassier”.
Here is a curiosity: Gericault’s tomb in Père-Lachaise was initially made of marble and then rebuilt in bronze 40 years later.
Would you ever have said that?
2 – The tomb of Abelard and Eloisa
Abelardo and Eloisa are one of the most unfortunate couples in history. Before Tristano and Isotta, before Romeo and Juliet, they were there.
They lived around the year 1000 and Abelard is one of the most influential theologians and philosophers of his era. He is almost 40 years old when he falls in love with one of his disciples, Eloisa, a young girl of 17 years old heir of a noble family.
Between the two there is immediately a deep passion that will lead to a child and dishonor for both of them.
Forced to separate and go ways after a secret marriage, they exchange love letters for decades without the possibility of seeing each other. They could meet again only when they were very old, in an old chapel where they then decided to rest for eternity.
At this point in history, you maybe think that the funeral monument of Abelard and Eloisa in Père-Lachaise is the original one. In reality, the current tomb was built only later, but using stones from the monastery where Eloisa lived the last years of her life.
One of the most touching things about this monument is the figure of the dog that is at the foot of the two, just to symbolize the mutual fidelity to their love.
Here’s a fun fact!
Did you know that Abelardo and Eloisa were among the first to be moved to the Paris cemetery?
3 – The tomb of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Oscar Wilde’s tomb is located in division 89 of the Pere-Lachaise cemetery. Not only is it one of the most visited of the entire holy camp, but it is also the one with the greatest number of anecdotes.
First of all, you must know that the English writer was not immediately buried in Père-Lachaise. In fact, his last mistress took several years to find the sum necessary to pay the concession in the cemetery of Paris. Until then, the body of Oscar Wild was kept in the cemetery of Bagneux.
But what you must know about Oscar Wilde’s tomb?
Like during his life, Oscar Wilde did not stop giving scandal even after his death.
The tomb of the artist is in fact made with an enormous block of white marble, in which a sphinx is depicted with the private parts highlighted too much. You must know that, although the tomb was completed in 1914, the “indecency” of the sculpture was such that two women decided to evirate the statue 50 years later, in 1961.
But there is also another curiosity about this tomb.
In the last decades, the tomb of Oscar Wild in Père Lachaise has been the subject of a strange habit, especially by the women who visited it. The visitors have in fact begun to leave kisses with red lipstick on the marble, to symbolize their love for the artist.
Probably started as a goliardic proof of affection, this tradition soon degenerated with writings and drawings that risked seriously damaging the funeral monument.
Fortunately, in 2011, the municipality of Paris decided to clean it up and installing a protective glasses to prevent anyone from getting close to the marble.
4 – Jim Morrison’s grave
Jim Morrison is one of the most emblematic figures of his era, and therefore you should not be surprised that his tomb is also the most visited of the entire cemetery of Père Lachaise. No matter when you decide to go there, surely you will find plenty of flowers that have been brought by his fans.
You should know that, when he died, at the age of 27, the cemetery director refused to host him within his walls until he decided to read some of his poems.
Did you know it?
5 – The Federated Wall
The wall of the Federates in Père-Lachaise is not a funeral monument dedicated to a single person but it has a different.
This place is in fact sadly famous also for some bloody events that happened towards the end of the 800, when Paris crossed the insurrectional period. It was in 1871 that 147 people were shot at the walls of the cemetery, the Federated Wall, and thrown into a mass grave with thousands of other bodies.
Precisely because of this sad story, 100 years later, the Federated Wall has become the favorite place for the communist demonstrations in Paris
But not only!
This place is considered a sort of pilgrimage destination for people of every ethnicity, religion or political faith, just to show their right to diversity and to remember the massacre of those years.
Italians buried in Père-Lachaise
Did you know that many Italians are also buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery?
If you are planning to walk around this small city of the dead, I suggest you go to section 84, where you will find the Garibaldini d’Argonne memorial. It is, in fact, a funeral monument dedicated to the Italian volunteers who fought for France in the First World War.
Every November 11th, there is even a memorial ceremony.
But the Italians buried within these walls are really a lot and it would be really impossible to make a list of them. In Père Lachaise is buried, for example, the Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellisini.
Among the Italian artists, in section 96, you will find instead the tomb of Amedeo Modigliani, who rests in Père-Lachaise next to his 23-year-old partner Jeanne Hébuterne. The woman, in fact, committed suicide the day after the artist’s death, throwing herself from the fifth floor.
How to find the tombs in Père-Lachaise
Many famous people are buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery.
In addition to the characters I have just mentioned, some of the most important French artists and many leading personalities from all over the world are also buried in this place.
Here you can see the tombs of Géricault, Modigliani, Corot, De Nittis and Pisarro and many others, but also the tomb of Jim Morrison which has become a real attraction.
But how can you find the funeral monuments of all these characters?
It’s very simple, at the entrance of the Père-Lachaise cemetery you can find and take a map that will show you the exact location of all the burials of the most famous characters.
For example, if you want to search the Oscar Wilde tomb in Père-Lachaise, you will find the number of his burial marked on the map and you can find it very quickly.
Practical, isn’t it?
Otherwise, if you want to participate in a guided tour of the Père Lachaise, you can book it here. With the guided tour, you will discover the most important funeral monuments and you will know also the whole history of this place.
History of the Pere-Lachaise cemetery
I don’t know if you’ve know the translation, but “Père-Lachaise” in French means “Father La Chaise”. The name of this cemetery derives in fact from the Jesuit father who owned the land on which the holy field then arose.
Another important curiosity about the Père-Lachaise cemetery is that it was one of the first cemeteries in Paris, even established by Napoleon.
For what purpose?
The decision was dictated in reasons of public hygiene. Before building this large public cemetery, the dead were, in fact, buried in small cemeteries next to places of worship or even in churches, under the floor. It was believed, in fact, that the more the body was near the place of worship or a relic, the sooner it would reach salvation.
Have you ever wondered why so much incense was used inside the churches?
Perhaps it will surprise you to know that the incense, at one time, was used not only to hide the bad smell of the dead buried in churches but also to disinfect the air and avoid the spread of diseases.
The tradition of being buried as close as possible to the saints was so rooted that a clever ruse was needed to change things.
How did they do it?
As you would do today, with a well-orchestrated “advertising” campaign!
At the Père-Lachaise cemetery the bones of famous characters who had died years before Napoleon were moved with the aim of inciting the citizens to be buried outside the city walls. Specifics areas were established for the different religions and they were enlarged several times until Peré Lachaise became a monumental cemetery like Verano in Rome.
You may not believe it but together with the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre, Père-lachaise is one of the most visited attractions in Paris, with over 3 million visitors every year.
I didn’t expect it, but I liked Père-Lachaise too.
The numbers of the Père-Lachaise cemetery
Although there are other monumental cemeteries in almost all European capitals, the Père-Lachaise is especially impressive for its size. Think that it covers an area of 44 hectares and houses more than 70,000 tombs.
For the artistic value of the funeral monuments, but above all for the importance of the characters that today rest within these walls, the cemetery of Paris is also the most visited in the world with over 3 million visitors every year.
But it hasn’t always been that way!
In the first years after its construction, the Père-Lachaise cemetery was not well seen by the inhabitants of Paris and only 2,000 people had been buried here 10 years after its creation.
Just to overcome the resistance of the population, the French authorities decided to transfer some of the most famous personalities of the time between the walls of the holy camp, thus pushing French citizens to do the same.
The idea was so successful that in 1830 the cemetery guests had become more than 33,000.
How to get to Père Lachaise, timetables and useful info
To arrive in Père-Lachaise I suggest you take the metro line 2 or 3 and get off directly at the top with the same name. The exact address is 16, rue du Repos, within the twentieth arrondissement, but I assure you that it is so large that you cannot miss it.
The timetable of the cemetery is different in every season.
From November 6th to March 15th the opening times are from Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm. Saturdays from 08:30 to 17:30, while on Sundays and public holidays from 09:00 to 17:30.
From 16 March to 5 November, the opening hours are from Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 18:00. Saturdays from 08.30 to 18.00 and on Sundays and public holidays from 09.00 to 18.00.
The cemetery is so vast that there are numerous guided tours that you can also buy at the corner of Boulevard de Ménilmontant and Rue du Repos.
Are you planning to visit the Pere Lachaise in Paris and you need some other advice?
If you want to book some activities or tickets, please write to me in the comments the budget you have available and the dates you are interested in.
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