February 24, 2011

Paris' Pere-Lachaise Cemetery

Here's a blog post I had to do for one of my classes--yeah we have our own blog, crazy right? I figured it would be a decent travel post here as well. Killing two birds with one stone FTW.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a sprawling 109 acre village of the dead and one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. The cemetery is named after the Jesuit priest Père François de la Chaise, confessor to King Louis IV, who led the reconstruction of the Jesuit Rest House completed here in 1682. The land was later acquired by the Parisian government. 

Located in the 20th arrondissement, this beautiful cemetery is the resting place for some of the most famous artists, musicians, and writers of our time. Housed here are the remains of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Moliere, Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Victor Hugo, and the famous tragic lovers Abelard and Heloise to name a few. There are also emotionally moving memorials dedicated to the lives lost during World War I and the Holocaust. 
Due to the terribly overcrowded burial conditions within the city, in the 18th century the government decided to move their cemeteries away from the center of the city and placed heavy restrictions on burials inside parish churches. Because of the stench and fear of disease, many of the corpses of urban cemeteries were moved to what is now famously known as the catacombs of Paris. 
During this time, Nicholas Frochot, an urban planner, developed a hilltop estate on Mont Louis and opened it as Pere Lachaise cemetery in 1804. To increase the popularity of the cemetery(many did not want to venture so far out of city limits for funerals) Frochot persuaded the local government to move the remains of Moliere, Abelard and Heloise to Pere Lachaise. Soon after, Pere Lachaise became the most popular plot of land to be buried in all of Paris. Due to it's popularity the cemetery has been enlarged several times and now contains over 300,000 bodies and thousands more in ashes within the columbarium. 
One of the most unique things about Pere Lachaise at this time, was the fact that it was also a landscaped garden designed to commemorate loss and public virtue. Visiting last fall, I felt just how peaceful and hauntingly beautiful it really is and was fascinated by the maze of graves, old and new, colliding.  The cemetery is usually open from 8am-6pm Monday through Saturday; 9am-6pm Sundays. Be sure to grab a map, it really is its own city of the dead with street names and all. 

Auschwitz Memorial
New graves are being put in nearly every day
Winding paths make it easy to get lost...

Etlin, Richard A. The Architecture of Death. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984. Print.

"Pere Lachaise." Columbus Travel Media Ltd. 2010: Web. 23 Feb 2011. .

"Pere Lachaise: A Bit of History." Paris.org. The Paris Pages, 2010. Web. 23 Feb 2011. .

Strunsky, Anna. Violette of Pere Lachaise. New York: Frederick A Stokes Company, 1915. Print.

Photos by Me (Julie Mulvey)

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