Being the cemetery buff that I am, a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery was a must. The cemetery is located in the 20th arrondissement, which I find the least appealing. The metro ride to there was a little sketchy, and the neighborhood was not the prettiest. Nevertheless we had blocked out our day for Père Lachaise, and our mission was to explore the cemetery in full. I wanted to visit one of my favorite composers—Frederic Chopin. And being that we’re both the Doors fans, we knew we would be knocking on Mr. Morrison’s grave.
Père Lachaise was built in 1804, and is the most visited cemetery in the world. Being the largest burial site in Paris, it engulfs 110 acres of land. There are more than one million interments, dating back as far as the 1800s. More human remains reside in the cemetery than actual tombs. The reason is because the cemetery is overcrowded and multiple family remains have been moved into the same grave. Some tombs may have up to a dozen bodies in one. This is not uncommon, as new burials are permitted and space is limited. We saw one grave where the coffin was opened and no human remains were inside. We wondered then where the remains were, but now know that it’s uncommon for bodies to be removed after a certain period of time. I learned afterwards that the cemetery gives out a lease for the graves, and when the lease is over and no family member renews it, the body could be removed to an ossuary.
We spent a fair amount of time walking around and after fifteen minutes of being there, I felt a great sense of sadness I couldn’t shake off for the entire duration of the visit. Death intrigues and saddens me, and I often wonder about the afterlife. I thought the place was beautiful and amazing, with such intricate details on each tomb or mausoleum. I liked the old elaborate ones the best. They have a lot to them, but all of the tombs we saw had its own finesse and character. I imagined the tombs of the dead represent their style or grace when they were once alive. And just the thought of someone I admire like Chopin or Jim Morrison buried beneath the ground I was standing on was mind-blowing to me. It made me wish I had had the chance to meet them when they were in our dimension.
If you end up going to Père Lachaise, I hope you enjoy the serenity of this captivating site like I did. A map is necessary to visit if you’re seeking out a particular grave of interest. If you’re roaming and exploring the place without visiting a mister or miss of the past, you may not need one. Conveniently I found a map at our apartment, so there was no need to go hunt one down. But if you do want one, you could get one online for free.