Probably one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is one of Paris’ most popular tourist attractions and reputed to be the most visited cemetery anywhere.
What makes a cemetery such a popular site? Well, the people buried there, of course! For Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, that includes many individuals of world renown, not just favorite Frenchmen.
History of the Cemetery
This famous Parisian cemetery was named for Père François de La Chaise (1624 – 1709), the spiritual adviser of Louis XIV, though the cemetery was not laid out and established until 1804, when Napoleon Bonaparte lifted the ban of such burial grounds, which had been deemed a health hazard.
Many believed this cemetery to be too far beyond the downtown city limits for convenience, and it took a while before the site became popular with the public. Wise marketers-of-old devised a plan to attract individuals to purchase plots in the cemetery, transferring the remains of writers Molière and La Fontaine to the Père François de La Chaise Cemetery, making it the hip place to be buried. Records note that the cemetery’s population increased quickly after that because everyone wanted to be buried among the famous.
The 43.2 hectare (109-acre) cemetery is also rich with sculpture, as each family of the deceased buried here tried to out-do the sculptures and monuments placed by the city’s other wealthy families. The result is many spectacular works of art that are just as interesting to view as the various gravesites of famous individuals.
Though most of the people buried here had some connection with Paris, visitors will recognize some names that are decidedly not French.
It’s best to pick up a map before you enter the cemetery (they’re sold across the street) in order to keep your bearings and find any specific graves of interest to you or your traveling companions.
You’ll find the graves of literary figures such as Honoré de Balzac, Victor Noir, Charles Nodier, Americans Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and Irish author Oscar Wilde.
Musicians buried here include Bizet, Chopin, Poulenc, Rossini, and Dukas, as well as opera singers Maria Callas and Edith Piaf, dancer Isadora Duncan, and American rock and roll star Jim Morrison.
Artists are among the largest group buried here in Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. They include Pissarro, Modigliani, glass sculptor Lalique, Max Ernst, Delacroix, and sculptor Cartellier.
If you’re an old movie fan, you’ll want to locate the gravesites of Sarah Bernhardt, Yves Montand, and Simone Signoret.