FINAL REST: PERE LACHAISE
The Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is the most visited cemetery in the world. On a recent trip, I visited this vast, interesting place. Famed for being the first garden cemetery, it opened in 1804 but there isn’t much space devoted to what we would think of as gardens. Instead, the cemetery is chock full of ornate, closely placed tombs. If you’ve visited the cemeteries of New Orleans, you’d feel right at home here. The sixty-nine thousand tombs cover a range of architectural styles, but the Gothic crypt seems to predominate in the older sections.
Although there are over one million interred in the cemetery, and there is a waiting list today, it wasn’t always a popular burial site with Parisians. Located far outside the city when it opened, and not being attached to a church, made it an undesirable final resting place. So a bit of creative marketing helped it along. First, Jean de La Fontaine (poet) and Moliere (playwright, actor, and poet) were buried there. Burying the famous in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery increased its popularity. A decade or so later, the purported remains of Abelard and Heloise (the famous lovers) were moved to the cemetery and then Parisians clamored to get in. By 1830, the cemetery had thirty-three thousand graves!
Today, people visit the Pere Lachaise to see the tombs and architecture, and the graves of the famous. Americans are probably most interested in Jim Morrison’s grave. There’s an interesting story on how he came to be interred here. He died in Paris, but cemetery officials weren’t interested in offering a musician a place. They were persuaded when they found out he was working on a novel. The cemetery has many famous writers including Balzac, Proust, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde. The graves of composer Frederic Chopin and actress Sarah Bernhardt can also be visited.