Here is a short history of the most visited cemetery in the world, with more than 3 Million visits per year, as well as the most popular cemetery in France. It is especially known for the amount of great personalities of the art world who are buried there. It was one of the cemeteries which was created after the closing of the Holy Innocents cemetery in the heart of Paris (see articles on Les Halles and on the catacombs of Paris), when the city dispatched the many bodies which had piled up in a space too small to contain everyone.

It was called the Eastern cemetery at first. The place had been the installation spot for a Jesuit resting house managed by Father François d’Aix de la Chaise, who was confessor of Louis the 14th. The installation of the Jesuits here was related to the nearby Faubourg Saint Antoine’s vocation for healing and taking care of the poor. The term Pere Lachaise stayed, rather than Eastern cemetery, “Père” meaning father in French. The Père Lachaise cemetery was not very loved at first, when it opened in 1804, since many Parisians did not want to be buried in a place out of the city at the time, on an isolated height, and near a shabby, poor part of town.

 

Tomb of Heloise and Abelard, division 7, Père Lachaise cemetery

1804 is when Napoleon changed the law regarding the right for people of other religion or ethnic group to be buried with the same rights. A turning point in its growth and popularity was the decision to transfer the corpses of Heloise and Abelard in the cemetery in 1815, with a gothic monument to shelter their tombs. These two religious personalities of the 12th century represent one of the most important love stories in French history and romantic litterature, and lovers would come to their resting place in order to swear their oaths of love to each other. The reputation of the cemetery was growing… It now occupies a 45 hectar space and hosts a bit less than 70 000 concessions. It is home to a great amount of art and architectural works, weither around the graves, the alleys or the entrances. The landscaping of the place was originally designed by Alexandre Brongnard in 1803, but many additions were made especially in the northern part of he cemetery, which is more recent.

 

Colour engraving of the cemetery in 1815 from the entrance with the tomb of Heloise and Abelard on the upper right. By Pierre Courvoisier 1756 1804)

 

A list of important characters buried there:

– Jim Morrison

– Oscar Wilde

– Molière

– Frédéric Chopin

– Jean de La Fontaine

– Edith Piaf 

– Allan Kardec

– Camille Pissarro

– Honoré de Blazac

Guillaume Appolinaire

 

Last but not least, the place has hundreds if not thousands of different species of trees, making it a beautiful nature spot as well as a truly eery place for a walk out of space and time.

 

D.A.