Not many people know this famous graveyard’s official name, Cemetery of the East. For Parisians, it’s called la cite des morts, the city of the dead, and for tourists from all over the world it’s most commonly known as Pere Lachaise. As the Parisian nickname implies, it’s like a whole city. On the planned streets and alleys you’ll find palaces (tombs with complex sculptural compositions), cottages (familial crypts with modest or magnificent sculptures) and apartment buildings (columbaria). The wrought iron signs hold the plot numbers, and there are more than six thousand trees in this unique cemetery. The necropolis has become world-famous as a museum of graveside sculptures under the open sky.
This cemetery is part of Menilmontant boulevard. People come here to give tribute to the memory of the dead. But that’s not the only reason to pay this place a visit. It’s a good destination for a quiet retreat, a simple stroll, or for thinking about life.
Parisians see Pere Lachaise as not just a cemetery, but as a park. The citizens relax here, kids play, and people have picnics. Tourists run with a printed or purchased map of the cemetery and search for the famous grave of Pere Lachaise. It’s a large, light garden with a great number of statues.
There are even tours of the cemetery, and you can book them using this link. Or explore the cemetery on your own with an audioguide. At this link you can download our audioguide to Père Lachaise in English. The app has a route through the cemetery and the stories of its most famous residents. It’s a real tour for the price of a cup of coffee. Download.
The foundation of Père-Lachaise
The necropolis is 48 hectares (118 acres) large, and it dates back to 1804. That’s when the cemetery was founded and named in honor of Francois de la Chaise, the father confessor of King Louis XIV. When the cemetery was opened, it was far beyond the city boundaries. At first, Parisians didn’t want to bury their relatives there. So, to increase the new cemetery’s popularity, the remains of Moliere and La Fontaine were moved, and then the remains of Pierre Abelard and Heloise (practically the French Romeo and Juliette, whose romantic love shocked many people deep in their souls) were moved in 1817.
Eventually, the Parisians wanted to be buried among those famous people. According to the historical record, the number of people buried in this cemetery in just a few years time grew from a few dozen to 30 thousand people. Today, there are more than one million people here, not counting the columbaria. Only Parisians or those who die in Paris have the right to be buried here.
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Pere Lachaise’s famous graves
The cemetery provides eternal refuge to many famous writers, artists, actors and political activists. People visit their graves to honor their memories. Some of these often-visited graves include those of Honore de Balzac, Modigliani, Edith Piaf and Sarah Bernhardt. And this is just a drop in the sea of all the famous people who found their eternal peace here.
One of the most visited graves is F. Chopin’s. He was the composer who wrote «Funeral March», the composition to which people are buried, including the author himself.
Balzac described this cemetery in the last part of his novel Pere Goriot. The author’s last home is also here.
The graves that are connected to the deaths of many people also leave a big impression on visitors. Pere Lachaise has a memorial to the victims of Nazi concentration camps, as well as a monument to the French Resistance movement.
Among the famous sites in Pere Lachaise is Communard’s Wall where 147 members of the Paris Commune were shot in the spring of 1871. But fate has a sense of irony, and Adolphe Thiers, the man who ordered the Paris Commune shot, is also buried here.
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Legends of Pere Lachaise cemetery
Some graves receive a lot of attention due to secrets and legends that lure in many visitors with tales of miraculous healings. These legends include a specific ritual that you must perform to get the result you want. You’ll always see a ton of people near the grave of the French journalist, Victor Noir, who was shot by the Emperor’s nephew in a dispute. Men come here to ask for potency, and women come because they want to be mothers. There are rumors that when his corpse was brought into the morgue, something unusual happened: his genitals came back to life. This event is the reason for the unusual popularity.
Those who dream of eternal love go to visit Oscar Wilde. They say that if you whisper your wish and kiss the sphinx on the writer’s grave, your wish will come true. The spirit of the ironic Oscar Wilde only helps those who suffer the most in their romantic dealings. People kiss the sculpture and write their admissions of love in lipstick, like in the film «Paris, I Love You». The grave is also popular among homosexuals. There are rumors that they visit their idol at night, even though the cemetery is closed at night and there’s a high wall around the necropolis.
«Against the devil within» is the epitaph on the gravestone of the cult singer Jim Morrison. His fans stand out among tourists. They talk loudly, smoke marijuana and throw cigarette butts on the ground. Due to this, people wanted to move his ashes to another place, but his grave is the fifth most popular in the whole cemetery.
They say that Pere Lachaise has magical powers. Witches, black magic, and other such things could have repeatedly held their «Sabbath» here. However, as you walk through Pere Lachaise, you probably won’t notice anything horrible.
This is only part of all the interesting things about this amazing place. There are even more stories of the legendary cemetery in our audio guide. Download it at this link.
Useful information for Pere Lachaise Cemetery
The cemetery’s address is 16 Rue du Repos, 75020, Paris Pere Lachaise Gambetta.
The metro station Pere Lachaise is 500 meters from the side entrance. The station Philippe Auguste is right in front of the central entrance. The station Gambette is not far from the grave of Oscar Wilde, and from there you can continue walking through the necropolis.Entrance is free, and the cemetery is open every day from 8 to 6.
Map of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
In the attachments you can download a more detailed map of the Pere Lachaise cemetery in French.