As the recent Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris depicted, the City of Lights has a long history of attracting fascinating characters. All those people eventually have to end up somewhere, often at Pere Lachaise and Montparnasse Cemetery. Paris has become one of the few cities where visiting the dead is a popular attraction.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Opened by Napoleon in 1804, the Pere Lachaise cemetery with its 300,000 graves is the largest in Paris. It’s a beautiful, even romantic, spot for a stroll. The visitor can get lost for hours among the serpentine tree-covered paths. While it’s the final resting place for many famous people, a quiet area can usually be found away from the celebrity crowd.
Go and explore on the miles of cobblestoned paths.
We just love the look on this gentleman’s face, “Okay, I’m done. Can I just take a nap now?”
There are many graves with women weeping in agony but we didn’t see one of a man doing the same thing.
The grave of Rossini, the Italian composer of the stirring William Tell overture, is typical of the style of the mid-19th century. These mini-mausoleums provide a private chapel inside to pray.
Despite all the Napoleonic-era generals, famous composers and other luminaries, the most visited tomb at Pere Lachaise is still that of former Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. Forty-plus years after his death he’s still drawing standing-room-only crowds.
You probably wouldn’t want to be buried next to the former rock star. The headstone next to him attracts quite a bit of graffiti, including the expression above. It’s now surrounded by a fence and a guard is on constant vigil.
Much like the person, Oscar Wilde’s grave has had a long and sordid history. The lifelike genitalia on the angel were stolen while the slab itself attracted graffiti and lipstick kisses. The governments of France and Ireland recently restored the tomb and put up a glass barrier around it. Now those wishing to leave a kiss behind must plant one on the wall instead.
In a macabre tableau, some of the headstones are being toppled by tree roots which look eerily like skeletal arms pushing up from below.
If you visit, climb up the hill and walk around the older sections that are in a somewhat tumbledown condition. Some areas look they haven’t been touched in a century.
There are about a dozen Holocaust memorials that are truly heart-wrenching.
After a black-and-white day at Pere Lachaise, we were in the mood for a bit of color at the Montparnasse Cemetery. It’s also more accessible than Pere Lachaise due its flat, compact size.
One of the more well-known graves is of Charles and Sophie Pigeon who are still in bed looking like they just happen to be discussing the day’s events. Monsieur Pigeon made his fortune by inventing the non-exploding Pigeon lamp, which sounds like it could be something totally different, that he exhibited at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.
Influential photographer and painter Man Ray was born in South Philly. His headstone on the left says “unconcerned but not indifferent” and is signed by wife Juliet. Hers says simply “Together Again.”
This man peering out from behind the creeping ivy is trying his best not to be forgotten.
Former world chess champion Alexandre Alekhine of Russia has a chess board imbedded in front of his tomb. I wonder if any of his fans ever play a match on it.
There is a tradition of leaving Metro tickets on the grave of French philosophy couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
I can’t find out why that is. Does anyone know the answer?
Have you ever visited a cemetery on vacation?