Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise

Père Lachaise Cemetery [peyr /luh-shez] is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, France, and is reputed to be the world’s most-visited cemetery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the graves of those who have enhanced French life over the past 200 years. It is also the site of three World War I memorials. Notable residents include Georges Bizet, Maria Callas, Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Marceau, Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde.

The cemetery is on Boulevard de Ménilmontant. The Paris Métro station Philippe Auguste is next to the main entrance, while the station called Père Lachaise, on line 3, is 500 meters away near a side entrance. Many tourists prefer the Gambetta station as it allows them to enter near the tomb of Oscar Wilde and then walk downhill to visit the rest of the cemetery.

The cemetery takes its name from the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise (1624–1709), who lived in the Jesuit house rebuilt in 1682 on the site of the chapel. The property, situated on the hillside from which the king during the Fronde (civil war), watched skirmishing between the Condé and Turenne, was bought by the city in 1804. Established by Napoleon in this year, the cemetery was laid out by French architect Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart, and later extended.

At the time of its opening, the cemetery was considered to be situated too far from the city and attracted few funerals. Consequently, the administrators devised a marketing strategy and in 1804 with great fanfare organized the transfer of the remains of French literary icons La Fontaine and Molière. Then, in another great spectacle in 1817, the purported remains of Pierre Abélard and Héloïse were also transferred to the cemetery with their monument’s canopy made from fragments of the abbey of Nogent-sur-Seine (by tradition, lovers or lovelorn singles leave letters at the crypt in tribute to the couple or in hope of finding true love).

This strategy achieved its desired effect when people began clamouring to be buried among the famous citizens. Records show that, within a few years, Père Lachaise went from containing a few dozen permanent residents to more than 33,000. Today there are over 300,000 bodies buried there, and many more in the columbarium, which holds the remains of those who had requested cremation.

Jim Morrison’s grave site is one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. The grave had no official marker until French officials placed a shield over it, which was stolen in 1973. In 1981, Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin placed a bust of Morrison and the new gravestone with Morrison’s name at the grave to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death;  the bust was defaced through the years by cemetery vandals and later stolen in 1988. In the 1990s Morrison’s father placed a flat stone on the grave. The stone bears a Greek inscription literally meaning ‘according to his own daemon’ and usually interpreted as ‘true to his own spirit.’ Mikulin later made two more Morrison portraits in bronze but is awaiting the license to place a new sculpture on the tomb.

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