old tombs covered with vines
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The intriguing Pere Lachaise cemetery and what to expect

While a trip to a cemetery might not be on top of many people’s must-see places, there are times when it can be an interesting attraction. The famous cemetery in Paris, Pere Lachaise, is the resting place of many famous people who once lived here, including Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. It’s also one of the world’s most visited cemeteries in the world.

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of cemeteries, but something about Père Lachaise makes this a different experience. After all, this is probably the closest you will get to rub shoulders with so many famous (although dead) people in one place. With over 110 acres (44 hectares), it’s home to many famous gravesites.

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About Père Lachaise Cemetery

Dating back to 1804, this famous cemetery in Paris is home to 300,000 graves scattered over 44 hectares (9 acres). According to the city officials, this is the resting place of over 1,000,000 people. The cemetery takes its name from Father François d’Aix de La Chaise, who happened to be King Louis XIV’s confessor and lived nearby.

The famous necropolis feels like a large park with over 5,000 trees, vines and moss intertwined among the graves. Here you’ll find an outstanding collection of 19th-century sculptures ranging from simple to ornate and downright ostentatious. It’s almost like visiting an outdoor museum from Gothic graves, ancient mausoleums, burial chambers, and elaborate statues.

The creation of the Pere Lachaise cemetery was an efficient solution. As other cemeteries in Paris reached capacity, there was a need for additional space to bury the dead. Before that, Parisians were buried in the quarters of the city they resided in during their life.  This cemetery changed that concept.

The only criteria for being buried here was a residency in Paris, no matter where. It also became a resting place for people of all faiths and creeds and the first crematorium in France.

More than just a cemetery

It might be difficult to believe, but the officials struggled to convince people to choose Pere Lachaise as their final resting place. It was outside the city and on a hill, which made it unappealing to Parisians.

To entice them and add prestige to the newly created cemetery, authorities transferred the remains of French playwright Molière and the famous lovers Abelard and Heloise here in the early 19th century. From what we can see today, it worked like a charm.

The cultural importance

The most famous cemetery in Paris is home to many cultural icons. Some of the greatest minds, artists and talent have descended on Paris over the centuries. Thousands flock here each year to pay respects to their heroes and out of admiration for the legacies they left behind.

a street of tombs at Pere Lachaise cemetery
Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with many famous gravesites

Here you will find French writers, American musicians, Irish poets and other international artists. It’s a collection of famous characters that would make an impressive guest list at any party.

Architectural appeal

The cemetery feels like a park because it was designed as one by the architect Alexandre Théodore Brongniart. Inspired by the English gardens, Pere Lachaise was revolutionary in design with winding streets and directional signs of a cityscape.

Here you’ll find outstanding examples of 19th-century art and architecture as many families often hired architects and sculptors to design the tombs, graves and mausoleums. It’s no wonder some of these sculptures look like they came out of a museum or a private collection of art.

Famous people buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery

Many famous people buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery include musicians, poets, writers, actors, painters and other illustrious citizens. Paris always attracted the creative types, so many of them lived here at any point in time. For those buried here, death became just the beginning. 

Some of the graves are so popular that the officials had to fence them off to protect them from visitors’ damage. Both Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s graves are an example of this. Overly eager fans have caused significant damage to the graves over the years, and they are now protected from further damage. Everyone visiting the cemetery should be respectful of the graves, and the people buried here.  

Noteworthy graves

While all the Pere Lachaise cemetery graves are interesting and artful, some attract more visitors than the rest. It probably has to do with who the graves belong to more than anything else. However, even those that are not recognizable today are often some of the most beautiful ones.

Abelard and Heloise

Abelard and Heloise at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris
Abelard and Heloise united at Pere Lachaise

If you’re interested in reading more about the ill-fated romance between Abelard and Heloise, you might enjoy reading the letters the two wrote to each other as published here.

Jim Morrison

grave site of Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison’s grave

Jim Morrison died unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances. If you enjoy conspiracy theories, you might enjoy reading Jim Morrison’s Death And The Theories Around It.

Victor Noir

tomb of a man lying on his back
Victor Noir

Oscar Wilde

fallen angel shaped tomb of Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s tomb

More note-worthy famous people buried in this famous cemetery in Paris

The list of famous people would take a long time to compile, so here is a quick snapshot of some of the cultural icons you will find buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Writers and poets

  • Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (French writer)
  • Alfred de Musset (French poet)
  • Molière, La Fontaine (French playwright)
  • Victor Hugo (French writer)
  • Marcel Proust (French writer)
  • Guillaume Apollinaire (French poet)
  • Honoré de Balzac (French writer)
  • Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (American writers)

Musicians and performers

  • Frédéric Chopin (Polish classical musician)
  • Sarah Bernhardt (French actress)
  • Isadora Duncan (American dancer)
  • Edith Piaf (French musician)

Painters

  • Eugène Delacroix (French Romantic artist)
  • Amedeo Modigliani (Italian painter and sculptor)
  • Camille Pissarro (French impressionist painter)
    Georges-Pierre Seurat (French painter and father of neo-impressionism)
  • Théodore Géricault (French Romantic painter)

If you have enjoyed this post, you might also like Dark tourism: what’s the appeal?

Others

  • Baron Haussmann (19th-century architect who designed modern Paris)
  • Georges Haussmann (French civil engineer and town planner responsible for the design of modern Paris)
  • Mur des Fédérés /The Communards’ Wall (147 combatants of the Paris Commune were shot and thrown into a ditch in 1871)

Want to know more about famous people buried in Paris? Check out Pantheon in Paris.

Visiting Paris’ largest cemetery

Walking through the cemetery is an interesting experience. Partly creepy, it’s surprisingly peaceful and enjoyable. We went on a sunny morning that wasn’t overly hot, nor was it too cold. My previous visit was in December, and it wasn’t as enjoyable.

The cemetery is less spooky on a sunny day, and you can appreciate the details of the many artistic finished on the graves. You don’t have to be a dark tourist to add it to your itinerary. It is like a giant park that can be explored for hours. Most of all, it makes for an interesting stop while in Paris and one I highly recommend.

You can stroll along the many roads or cross between the rows of graves in any direction. For a better idea of which spots you want to visit, check out the graves ahead of time to help you plan which ones you want to visit.

What you need to know

The entrance to the Pere Lachaise cemetery is free. It’s open all year round. For detailed hours and location information, visit the official site.

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    aysabaw
    2 Sep 2017
    3:37am

    Interesting stories here but cemeteries give me goosebumps *__*

      kasiawrites
      2 Sep 2017
      3:46am

      Normally me too. When I came the last time it was creepy as it was winter. Better this time in the daylight

    ultimatetravel8
    2 Sep 2017
    3:59am

    Great post! I remember been there ages ago.

      kasiawrites
      2 Sep 2017
      4:00am

      Thank you! My last time was almost 20 years ago

        ultimatetravel8
        2 Sep 2017
        4:04am

        I think it was nearly twenty years ago as well.. I liked seeing Oscar Wilde and Jimmy Hendrix, and the famous musicians. Did you like anything specific?

          kasiawrites
          2 Sep 2017
          4:38am

          I was drawn to the really old graves. Some covered by moss and others with really elaborate designs. I wondered if anyone still takes care of them

    Stewie Overseas
    2 Sep 2017
    4:13am

    I think I would feel a bit creepy out. But then I remembered that I’ve walked through Japanese cemeteries and not been afraid. Your photos make it look very cool.

      kasiawrites
      2 Sep 2017
      4:40am

      Trust me, on a sunny day it’s ok. I am the first one who gets creeped out by cemeteries. Took few minutes. They have roads all over so it’s not like you’re walking between the graves. That would be a bit much for me

        Stewie Overseas
        2 Sep 2017
        6:53am

        It would have to be daytime, absolutely. Otherwise it’s a big fat “NOPE.”

    Mel & Suan
    2 Sep 2017
    9:03am

    Actually this is all rather intriguing. We might need to include this in our future itinerary!

      kasiawrites
      2 Sep 2017
      1:21pm

      I definitely recommend it! 👍🏼

    Anushree
    3 Sep 2017
    4:41pm

    I wanted to go there JUST for Jim Morrison but unfortunately it was closed because of rains. We waited around, thankfully the sun shone and I was able to see his final resting place (took me about an hour to find it). The cemetery is one its kind though, I have never seen anything so grand

      kasiawrites
      3 Sep 2017
      5:14pm

      Yes it definitely is something worth seeing. Glad you managed to see it 👍🏼

    amindfultravellerblog
    3 Sep 2017
    8:04pm

    What an interesting and intriguing place to visit!! 🙂

      kasiawrites
      3 Sep 2017
      8:19pm

      I certainly thought so too. ☺️

    Amielle De Torres
    4 Sep 2017
    4:41pm

    Beautiful yet creepy at the same times. Just looking and scrolling down at the photos already gave me creeps. 😣

      kasiawrites
      4 Sep 2017
      4:43pm

      Yes, my feelings exactly. I would only go on a sunny day 😐

        Amielle De Torres
        5 Sep 2017
        1:29am

        Right?? And when I’m not alone. 😂

          kasiawrites
          5 Sep 2017
          6:48am

          Oh most definitely 👍🏼