We found a place in Paris that is so popular, people are literally dying to get in: the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Cheesy, I know, but this place is seriously popular to be buried in and draws a lot of tourists!
We decided to take the scenic above ground route to the cemetery and hopped on the #69 bus, which according to the Rick Steves’ is the best bus to go sightseeing with the last stop being the cemetery. The bus ride was okay, going by places that we had either visited or walked by, but after 3 weeks of riding the underground Metro it was interesting to see what it’s like to drive in traffic. Paris’ bus drivers have got to be some of the best bus drivers in the world, as they have to go down seriously narrow streets and around illegally parked vehicles obstructing traffic.
Once at the cemetery we decided to use the walking tour found in the Rick Steves’ Paris guidebook to get us through the massive cemetery. Once through the gates and following the guidebook, we eventually come to the first famous person, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900.) Oscar was a famous writer, but more famous as being a martyr to homosexuality. A plastic wall covered in lipstick surrounds his massive tombstone.
As we searched for the next famous person on Rick Steves’ list, we came across massive monuments to remember those who died in wars and concentration camps. The monuments were very detailed and really expressed the messages that they tried to convey.
Next on the list, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) who was famous at… being famous, I guess. She has some famous quotes and hung out with the Paris intellectuals of the time, but other than that, I don’t know not much about her.
Next on the tour is the Communards Wall where on May 28, 1871, the 147 Communards of the Paris Commune came to an end when they were lined up and shot by French soldiers against that wall. I looked for bullet holes, but didn’t find any.
We found next couple of people on the tour, Edith Piaf and Moliere who I know nothing about, even after reading about them. I guess I was too excited to find the next person on the list.
Next on the list, Jim. One of many people buried at Pere Lachaise is the legendary front man for The Doors, Jim Morrison. Jim Morrison died exactly 3 months before I was born and ever since I started to enjoy the music of The Doors as a teenager, I have always wanted to visit this cemetery and see his grave. Jim’s grave has always drawn a lot of fans and the original shield placed on the grave was stolen in 1973. In 1981, Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin created a bust of Jim Morrison and was placed on a new gravestone with Jim’s name carved on it. In 1988, the bust was stolen and has never been found. In the early 1990’s, Jim’s father placed a gravestone with a Greek transcription that reads, KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY, which means “According to his own daemon.” I have heard for years that the cemetery is tired of all the vandals that come visit Jim’s grave and have threatened to kick him out. I was saddened to see all the graffiti on the other tombstones around Jim’s grave and the fence they had to put up with a warning sign to keep people out. But then again, I expected it.
Next on the list was another famous musician, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). We tried to explain to our daughter Sydney that he was a famous composer and she replied, “As famous as Beethoven?” I bet Chopin was rolling in his grave!
The next stop on the tour was to see the oldest residents of Pere Lachaise cemetery, Heloise (1101-1164) and Aberlard (1079-1142). In honesty, we had never heard of them, but dang, they are really old!!!
Next up, Colette (1873-1954) who is France’s most honored writer. Personally, I have never read anything she wrote. Perhaps I should learn to read French a bit better first.
And to end the tour, Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868). Okay, when hearing this name you are probably just like I was and wondering whom the heck this dead Italian guy is. Well, he wrote the famous Lone Ranger theme song… William Tell Overture. Yes, the one and only.
So there you have it. Photos and a brief explanation of what we saw at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I have to say in all honesty that this place is amazing to visit. Not just for its residents, but for the sheer beauty of the place. The monuments and crypts are works of art that we have seen in no other cemetery. I can easily see why people are dying to get in there…