Monuments and Memories in Pere-Lachaise

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The cobbled path to the heart of Pere Lachaise was uneven and icy.  I questioned the idea of touring a windblown Parisian cemetery on a cold February afternoon, but my love of old cemeteries overruled any common sense.  My fascination with old cemeteries is rooted in my love of history and my curiosity about the people that lie beneath the stone…the lives they lived, the world they lived in and the stories they left behind.

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Pere-Lachaise lies in the 20th arrondissement and holds the remains of over one million people, seventy-five thousand of whom are current residents. The walled 100 acres are a maze of pathways winding through, around and over monuments and tombstones in various states of repair.  There are maps marking the grave sites of the most famous residents (Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Jim Morrison) but the magic of Pere-Lachaise is uncovered by aimlessly wandering through the curious and beautiful monuments and decyphering the stories and lives depicted in the carvings and monuments of the lesser known.

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So many of the monuments themselves are works of art.  Stunning sculptures and intricate engravings grace the tombs of the relatively unknown while the graves of the famous (and infamous) are often unremarkable.

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Many of the tombs, monuments and mausoleums were graced with flowers and attention, but just as many were barren and in a state of elegant disrepair.  It is easy to understand the continued devotion to French icons, such as Edith Piaf

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but I wondered what  inspired a person to climb a monument and place a fresh, red rose into the hands of someone dead for almost 200 years 

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or create and lovingly place a sculpture and artsy sign on the grave of a musician …

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while nothing lies at the tomb graced with the title of Prince Henry De La Tour D’Auvergne Lauraguais, which is tucked away in obscurity amongst 70000 others?  So much to ponder with so few answers. We eventually tired of such quiet company and decided to seek out a warm refuge where we could contemplate the long list of interesting names collected in Pere-Lachaise and enjoy a hot meal and a bottle of good French wine.

Things to know

You can reach the cemetery by taking the number 2 or 3 metro line to the Pere-Lachaise stop and entering through the cemetery gates.

If you are interested in a comprehensive list of notable figures buried in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, click here

It can be difficult to find particular tombstones, even with a map.  The Mister and I looked for, but did not find Victor Noir, Isadora Duncan, Balzac and (at The Mister’s request) Fourier. Next time, hopefully.

I was puzzled by some of the notable, non-French figures buried in the cemetery (Jim Morrison?) and researched the requirements. To be eligible for burial within PL, one has to be either a resident of Paris or expire within Paris’s boundaries.  There is a current waiting list for burial plots, which are leased for 10, 30, 50 years or in perpetuity. Yes, burial sites and tombs are reused.