Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

<Photo of a snake and cross grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France. >I’m not a morbid person. I don’t like visiting spots where people have died and I avoid visiting catacombs because they creep me out.

So how on earth did I end up visiting the Cimetiere du Père Lachaise in Paris?

I’d like think I’m too young to be a true fan of Jim Morrison (but thank you, Val Kilmer, for turning me into a fan of you playing Jim’s life), and he was about the only person I had heard was buried there.

It turns out Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde are buried there too, along with a whole swag of other culturally important people.

Regardless, I was happy to wander around taking time to look at the amazing variety of ornate graves.

Despite the inviting possibility to aimlessly wander around the cemetery all day, I should have done my research first: it’s a rather large place. So large, in fact, that’s it’s easy to get lost in there without ever seeing the graves you want.

That’s kind of okay because the entire place is a fascinating step back into bygone eras. Crumbling ornate graves, rusting fences and nature overtaking whole areas are just a few of the noteworthy reasons to visit the cemetery.

<Photo of plants overtaking graves at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France. >On top of the famous people, there are memorials and plenty of interesting quarters to explore. This snake on the gravestone was one of many unexpected grave decorations.

Despite all the amazing stonework and results of aging, almost everyone who passed my friend and I asked for directions to Jim’s grave. We had stumbled across it accidentally, without a map, before carrying on to look for toilets. The grave has had to be fenced off to avoid further damage, and the nearby tree now has bamboo wrapped around it to cover the huge amount of chewing gum underneath.

The street signs should have helped us find our way to the toilet, but without a map, the street signs were pointless. Thankfully, all those people who asked for directions gave us a chance to check we were still heading in the right direction.

Views on the way there included this entire lower section that nature has embraced. Vines, bushes and trees adorn graves, and one large tree was growing in the middle of a grave.

Slightly less picturesque is the faceless lady on top of a tombstone. Years of rain hasn’t affected her exterior, yet her downward pointing face has deteriorated completely. I snapped a photo, then continued towards the still-distant toilets.

<Photo of a figure on top of a grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France. >For anyone planning to visit the cemetery, I recommend you find a decent map online (there are lots) and highlight the must-sees before you go. You can use findagrave.com to find people of note or ancestors.

Apart from being handy for locating graves, the map is invaluable for not getting lost. Worryingly, a few people asked us where they were — and they had maps!

Also remember to visit the toilets at the entrance before you start your tour: the next opportunity is a long way away.

I could have spent hours longer in the cemetery but we had more plans. Driving away from the cemetery, I felt relieved and proud that I had survived hours in a cemetery without feeling too morbid. Paris was sunny, green and glorious and I embraced it in my heart. Regardless, I’m still not ready for catacombs.

And just when I was feeling great, my friend announced “Oh this is the tunnel that Diana was killed in.” I politely nodded and cringed on the inside.

 

About

I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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3 comments on “Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
  1. Ron Rundle says:

    Wendy, I loved Pere Lachaise. Not in a creepy, macabre way, but so many of the graves, tombs, crypts are really beautiful. I found the downloaded map too difficult to read, and got one for free from the Hotel de Ville. And yes, really essential to work out where you want to go before entering.

  2. Wendy says:

    Yeah, I think I could spend a weekend there, Ron. We met people whose map numbers were different to the maps dotted around the streets. They were totally lost! A clear and detailed map is definitely key (another thing I hadn’t planned ahead with).

  3. Mandy says:

    I’d love to visit Pere Lachaise one day simply to visit Oscar and Jim’s graves. I quite like cemeteries but that is hardly surprisingly as I was a coffin kid (read goth) growing up. I appreciate the sombre atmosphere of cemeteries and see the beauty in them. of course, that is the great cemeteries with their statues and crumbling stones. I didn’t like modern graveyards in the least, especially not when going there for funerals and not for fun. Those places felt devoid of everything to me.

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