Père Lachaise is the largest cemetery inside the city limits of Paris, specifically located in the 20th arrondissement. Here, there are quite a few famous people buried amongst the 43 hectares (106 acres) of land. Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Colette, and so many more have been laid to rest here. The oldest tomb is said to be that of French philosopher and his lover, Abelard and Héloïse, who died in 1142. The total number of deceased that eternally reside in this cemetery is upwards of 700,000 or more.
The cemetery was named after King Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François de la Chaise; a Jesuit priest. Remember my visit to Maintenon and the story the of the downfall of the King’s mistress, Madame de Montespan and the rise of his new flame-turned-secret wife, Madame de Maintenon? Well, Father Françoise was the one who married the King and Madame de Maintenon in the secret at Versailles! How about them apples? Père de la Chaise lived outside the city limits in a Jesuit house that Napoleon Bonapart eventually turned the estate into a cemetery.
The end of the 17th century brought up a big concern; burial space was becoming an ultra premium and the threat of disease from overcrowded burial lands was looming on the horizon. This lead to it becoming a municipal cemetery in 1804, being incorporated into the city of Paris in 1860 and eventually during the end of the 19th century a crematorium was added to the facility. The design of the cemetery can be accredited to the architecture Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart and urban developper Nicolas Frochot. In order to promote the use of this cemetery, city officials reburied some famous deceased into the grounds allowing them to boast of its occupants.
The first thing one notices when visiting a French cemetery is the ornately designed headstones. We are used to seeing a simple stone (which those do exist here) with the deceased’s information and a sweet epitaph with maybe a small design on the top of the headstone. But here in France, they certainly take the eternal resting place and make it into a work of art!
We spent an afternoon walking the winding cobblestoned streets admiring the graves, both the beautiful ones and the ones that were either destroyed by the hand of nature or most unfortunately, man-kind. Each turn brought a whole new set of stones, an entire history just waiting to reveal itself. We were lucky enough that the weather was perfect and there weren’t too many people visiting that day. At certain points it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
You would think one would not want to visit a cemetery as part of their mini stay-cation, but there is something in the beauty and the peace that is here that forces you to appreciate the little things. Strolling aimlessly through the avenues requires you to reflect on all that you have, the impact you are making and the good that you have to share with others.