The Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France is one of the top cemeteries in the world to visit. Parisians come to have lunch while foreigners from around the world gaze at the beauty and the resting souls.
There is a reason over 3 million people visit the cemetery every year – its winding paths, memorable graves, and famous people resting there create a one-of-a-kind experience. I visited the cemetery and spent an entire day wandering amongst the dead, learning about them and the history of their final resting place.
Read on to learn more about this gorgeous cemetery.
- History of the Père Lachaise Cemetery
- Historic Events at Père Lachaise
- Crematorium and Columbarium
- Famous People Buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery
- Monuments at Père Lachaise
- Jewish Enclosure
- Muslim Enclosure
- Types of Gravestones at Père Lachaise Cemetery
- Hauntings at Père Lachaise Cemetery
- Père Lachaise Cemetery in Modern Media
History of the Père Lachaise Cemetery
The Père Lachaise Cemetery has a vibrant history. The name derives from King Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François de La Chaise d’Aix who was commonly called “le Père La Chaise” and who resided there.
If you didn’t know, the burial problem for dead bodies in Paris has been an issue for centuries. After significant problems of burials unearthing in Paris, the city needed a solution for where to bury their dead.
In the late 1800s the city of Paris bought four plots of land at the four corners outside Paris for its residents to be buried in. Organized by Napoleon, Père Lachaise was meant to be a cemetery to relocate remains from within the city.
That’s right, it was meant to house remains from inside Paris to the outer circle. That meant that many souls had rested, were disturbed, and would be moved to an unfamiliar ground. But they had some difficulty getting people there.
Père Lachaise was on a hill outside of Paris. Parisians, however, were very skeptical about being buried on a hill and even more weary about being buried outside the city. What Parisians didn’t know was that this would become the most prominent cemeteries in the city.
The first burial occurred on May 21, 1804 when a 5-year-old girl, Adelaide Paillard De Villeneuve was buried here. Then Napoleon (yes that Napoleon) started to create demand in the cemetery with a little public relations and press. He transferred the remains of the wife of Henri III, Louise de Lorraine. After that, a number of transfers were made. Soon enough the cemetery became the top spot to be laid to rest.
Père Lachaise actually had to be enlarged several times (six to be exact) to get to its current state. Today it is easy to spend an entire day walking the grounds.
Historic Events at Père Lachaise
Père Lachaise has seen two major and tragic historical events. First event was during the Napoleonic wars. In 1814 the Russians overran the cemetery during the battle of Paris.
The second event was much more tragic. The cemetery was stormed during the final battle in the fall of the Paris Commune at the end of what was known as La Semaine Sanglante, or “bloody week.”
Over 25,000 Parisians died that week with the main event happening at Pere Lachaise. Exactly 147 “Communards” were killed in the cemetery. Today, the cemetery’s Mur des Fédérés otherwise known as the “Communards’ Wall”, marks the site of the mass killing. If you look closely you can still see bullet holes in the wall.
Crematorium and Columbarium
The Père Lachaise crematorium was built in the late 1800s and was the first ever built in France. It marked a new era because previously cremations were banned in France.
The first cremation happened in 1889. The people of France didn’t catch on much to cremations until the late 1900s. But today nearly 45% of burials in Paris are cremations. There is even a lawn for ashes to be laid on in the cemetery. Cremations are a much more affordable option too.
The Columbarium itself has four floors, with two floors before the surface. It can hold over 40,000 cases!
Famous People Buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery
With over one million people buried here, there are countless famous and important people buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. It is hard to chose just a few to feature! There are over 40 composers and over 70 famous painters resting here.
When I visited I made a point to visit a few of the painters and musicians. I only had a few hours to explore, so here is who I went to go see:
Jim Morrison’s Gravestone
The most visited grave is Jim Morrison. He was an American singer and vocalist for the Doors. He died in Paris in 1971 at the young age of 27. There are a number of conspiracy theories about his death as he was found in a bathtub.
There is always a bottle of Jim Beam here as well as the left-behinds of thousands of fans that paid their respects.
Oscar Wilde was an Irish writer and poet most famously known for his work The Picture of Dorian Gray. He moved from Ireland to Paris in the late 1800s. He had a difficult life as he was gay and society still deemed that a crime.
He was originally buried in the Bagneux Cemetery outside Paris, but was transferred to Père Lachaise in 1909. Today a glass barrier surrounds his tomb because admirers wear lipstick and kiss his tomb, which can quickly erode the stone.
Fun fact: Wilde’s partner, Robert Ross, has his ashes in a small compartment inside the tomb.
Yes, Chopin buried here, but only partly. Chopin was terrified of being buried alive so he requested that his heart be buried separately in Warsaw, Poland.
Chopin’s grave is adorned with flowers at any time of the year!
Honoré de Balzac
Balzac was a French writer who was instrumental in creating popularity for the Père Lachaise Cemetery. His tomb can be found in the 48th division.
A French painter who is known to have influenced impressionist painters, Delacroix is buried in a family unit. You can see his paintings around the world including in the Louvre, and his art frequently tours the globe.
A Danish-French artist known as the “father of impressionism.” Camille’s work is most prominent in the Orsay Museum, however he did not make any money off his art when he was alive. Today you can purchase his art for a few million dollars.
Camille was buried in his family’s grave, as pictured here. Many people are buried in a family plot.
The famous French painter who used pointillism to make extravagant paintings — he died at the age of 31. Georges was buried in a similar fashion as Pissarro, in his family plot.
He painted with small dots to make a larger picture come to life. The Orsay Museum owns several of his paintings although they can be seen around the world.
Born as Hippolyte Rivail, Allan Kardec changed his name to correspond with his previous life. He aimed to speak with dead and he has done so! Before he died he told people to visit his grave and touch the neck on the statute overlooking his grave and make a wish. If your wish came true, you had to bring him flowers. Today the grave is adorned with flowers of people whose wish came true!
Mano Solo was a famous activist for restoring equality amongst all people who live on earth. His birth name was Emmanuel Cabut, that he later changed.
He was a French singer and songwriter who occasionally acted or DJ. He frequently performed at the Bataclan. He died at the young age of 46, after suffering from HIV.
I barely scratched the surface of seeing all the famous people buried here. Some of the other famous people buried here that people make a point to visit include:
- Simone Signoret and Yves Montand
- Ahmet Kaya
- Gioacchino Rossini, an Italian composer
- Victor Noir, a journalist killed by Prince Pierre Bonaparte
- Luigi Cherubini, an Italian opera composer
- Georges Bizet, a French opera composer
- Jean de la Fontaine, a French writer known for his fables
- Gertrude Stein, an American writer who befriended Picasso, Hemingway, and Matisse (among others)
And, not all famous people chose traditional burials. Inside the Columbarium there are several celebrities including Pierre Dac and Max Ophuls.
Monuments at Père Lachaise
There are several monuments throughout Père Lachaise Cemetery, those built for events at the cemetery and others to mark word events.
The most eerie monument is the Monument aux Morts which represents the unidentified dead Parisians.
With the burial issues across Paris there were several thousand unidentified bodies. This monument is a tribute to those who died without families, alone, or were simply forgotten. Inside the monument is a communal ossuary for these forgotten souls.
There are monuments for each world war. And there is a monument in memory of the victims of concentration camps. And one for the Parisian working class uprising that took place in the spring of 1848.
There is also a monument for those who passed in a catastrophic aerial accident, I did not see this monument and was not aware when I visited. Since I am afraid of flying, that is probably best!
Some of the other monuments (and those mentioned above) include:
- Memorial to Polish Soldiers
- Memorial to Greek Combatants
- Memorial to Armenian Combatants
- Memorial to Fighters in Belgian
- Memorial to Russian Fighters
- Memorial to Italian Soldiers
- Monument Commemorating the Communard Revolution Victims
- Monument to Parisians Dead & Missing in the Great War
- Monuments to Deportees to the Nazi Death Camps during World War II
- Communards Wall – Mur des Fédérés
- Monument Aux Morts (Monument to the Dead)
Many monuments are found in the 88 and 84th division.
Originally built in 1810, the Jewish enclosure was built in the cemetery with a surrounding wall. When the laws changed prohibiting segregating people by religion, the wall was removed. Eventually the resting souls were moved to another area of the cemetery where they remain today.
In the mid-1800s Napoleon the III built a Muslim mosque and enclave, but it was later destroyed. There were few burials and the Muslim enclosure had to be reduced multiple times. And later it became illegal to segregate cemeteries based on religion.
In the early 1900s, however, the enclosure saw its end. With the illegal segregation and the overhaul of Europe by the second world war, there was only a marked hedge to remember the enclosure.
Types of Gravestones at Père Lachaise Cemetery
There are so many types of gravestones at Père Lachaise that it is hard to categorize them. There are simple tombs with just a name, towering monuments, and family chapels. There are even several statutes and unique markers that adorn the winding walkways.
Many of the gravestones are the size of a coffin, usually protruding above ground with a marker. Some are taller like a British phone booth size, and have memorial markers or a space to step inside.
There are also several unique gravestones. Like Fernand Arbelot‘s gravestone that shows him looking at a mask of his grieving wife:
Or that of Christiane and Jean Nitzel which depicts a newer-age style of sculpture:
Some of the more notably-styled gravestones at Père Lachaise cemetery include those of:
- Remina Maggiori had her sculpture made by Marcello Tommasi
- Louis-Sebastien Gourlot‘s yellow tinted sculpture of his widow stands in stark contrast to the surrounding gray gravestones
- Moreay-Vauthier family tomb shows a weeping women looking down on the family graves
- Georges Rodenbach, a Belgian novelist, has a bronze sculpture of himself exiting his tomb
- Victor Noir, a journalist killed by Prince Pierre Bonaparte, bronze scultpure gets a lot of action by visitors touching the bulge in his pants.
- Theodore Géricault a painter, whose gravestone sculpture depicts him holding a paintbrush on top of a painting
- Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhai (JRD) Tata, a French-Indian aviator who launched Air India, has a family tomb that is surrounded by three-foot tall walls with burning columns
And the list goes on! The Père Lachaise Cemetery is filled with unique and custom gravestones.
Hauntings at Père Lachaise Cemetery
Being the largest cemetery in Paris, the Père Lachaise Cemetery is notably haunted. You cannot access the cemetery at night, however if you did you would be greeted by hundreds of souls. These are a few of the most famous haunts.
The Lady in White
The most infamous ghost of Père Lachaise is Countess Demidoff. She was exiled in Paris and died at the young age of 40 leaving behind an enormous fortune. In her will she said that she would give her fortune to any man who stayed at her grave for 365 nights and a day.
But be weary of this quest. There have been several attempts by men to complete this daunting task, however many of them have gone mad in the process and no one has yet to claim her fortune. Could you be the lucky one?
Before you try, it is also rumored that she was a vampire. Her gravestone notes a death date of 18/1818. Triple 8s are known as a symbol of vampires. Her tomb also has four wolf heads which is another rumored symbol of vampires.
Not only is Jim Morrison’s grave the most visited, it is also one of the most haunted. Visitors note a cold feeling by the tomb and some people even have photographs with Jim’s apparent image floating behind them.
Cursed Lovers Heloise and Abelard
In the middle ages a young woman, Heloise, fell in love (and became pregnant) with Abelard. Abelard was Heloise’s teacher, which made this a crime.
Heloise was sent to a convent for the rest of her life. Abelard, however, suffered a worse fate. Those in charge cut off Abelard’s *mhmm* so that he could not commit the crime again.
Despite being separated Heloise and Abelard continued to write for the remainder of their lives. When they died, Heloise’s father had them buried side by side at his house right next to Notre Dame. The remains were transferred to Père Lachaise.
The lovers are rumored to stroll the cemetery hand-in-hand, finally walking together again.
La Fontaine and Molière
The most famous transfer to the cemetery is that of La Fontaine and Molière – although its rumored that their remains weren’t the actual ones that were transferred. Their spirits and the “real” spirits are said to roam the cemetery searching for the true bodies.
Père Lachaise Cemetery in Modern Media
If the cemetery sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen it or its been referenced in a number of popular films and books.
Some popular movies include The Doors (a biography of Jim Morrison who is buried in Père Lachaise), Amelie, Paris I love you, Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, and the Netflix show Emily in Paris.
Père Lachaise has also been mentioned in some well-known books like Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Did you know that Jean Valjean is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery from that book?
Another mention is in Le comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas whose believed daughter is buried there. And last but not least, Le Père Goriot by Balzac, and the Père Goriot is buried in Père Lachaise!
I hope you liked my post on the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. I highly recommend a visit to see the remarkable graves and winding grounds. Check out these other articles: