Paris limits the number of burials within its city limits. In fact, more than six million skeletons were dug up and arranged in artistic piles in their underground crypts. However, as in life, some people get very special treatment after they are gone. One of the places very special people go when they are gone is the Père Lachaise Cemetery. As strange as it may seem, it is a major tourist attraction with millions of visitors each year (we have been there three times). We were near it this April and decided to walk through on our way to the metro.
Père Lachaise wasnt very popular when it first opened because, in 1804, it was too far out of town. In a stroke of marketing genius, the operators decided to dig up famous people buried elsewhere and rebury them in their cemetery. Two of the first were star-crossed medieval lovers Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil. This really classed the place up. Now there are more than 800,000 people buried here.
There are supposed to be maps at the entrance but we couldn’t find one. That didn’t bother us since we were just taking an interesting shortcut. However, Père Lachaise never fails to delight (at least people taking a shortcut). One of the first graves we came upon was an angel who appeared to be giving us a thumbs up.
Passing the angel, we wandered downhill and found Oscar Wilde’s grave. It is interesting to note the lipstick on the tomb and the glass wall surrounding it. The tomb of his next door neighbor appeared to have been toppled by admirers climbing on it to plant kisses on Wilde’s avatar. Walls never seem to work.
A little farther downhill and we found a tomb marked by a large bronze pelican. We don’t know who this is but suspected he might have had something to do with pelicans. Alternatively, this could be the tomb of a very famous pelican.
The cemetery is full of broad avenues, side lanes, paths, and little trails. They are all full of tombs, a few simple but many ornate. The cemetery is huge but we could actually find our way — and a few interesting tombs — using Google Maps.
Many of the tombs would be at home in Disneyland, especially the Haunted Mansion.
When we found this tomb, we wondered if someone was trying to get in or if the occupant was trying to get out.
In or out?
About two-thirds of the way down the hill, we found Jim Morrison’s (of the Doors) grave. It was relatively simple but seemed to be one of the most visited. It was surrounded by another fence which seemed to have no affect on passage to or from the grave.
The picture of a tomb for this post was one of the most ironic. The words above the door say “Perpetual Concession” (apparently, one can rent a temporary spot here). As far as we could tell, the tomb was empty and the door had turned to rust. So much for long term planning.