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Père Lachaise

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Père Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris, and one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery is reputed to be the most visited cemetery in the world, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to the grave sites of artists and writers. The cemetery is a veritable roll-call of the great and good who have illuminated all facets of French and Parisian life over the past 200 years or so. It is also the location of five Great War memorials.

The name has its origins in Père François de La Chaise (1624 - 1709). He was the confessor of Louis XIV, and lived in the Jesuit house rebuilt in 1682 on the site of the chapel. The property, situated on the side of a hill from which the king, during the Fronde, watched skirmishing between the Condé and Turenne, was bought by the city in 1804 and laid out by Brongniart, and later extended.

It was established by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804, where cemeteries had been banned in 1786 after the shutting down of the Cimetière des Innocents, on the fringe of Les Halles food market, on the grounds that it presented a health hazard. Several new cemeteries replaced all the Parisian ones, outside the precincts of the capital, in the early 19th century, Cimetière de Montmartre in the north, Le Père Lachaise in the east and Cimetière de Montparnasse in the south. At the heart of the city, and today, sitting in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, is Cimetière de Passy.

Oscar Wilde's Tomb

At the time the cemetery opened, it was seen as too far from the city and attracted very few interments. As such, the administrators devised a marketing strategy and with great fanfare, organized the transfer of the remains of La Fontaine and Molière, in 1804. Then, in another great spectacle in 1817, the purported remains of Pierre Abélard and Héloïse were also transferred to the cemetery with their monument's canopy made from fragments of the abbey of Nogent-sur-Seine. All this marketing strategy resulted in a great many people clamoring to be buried with such famous citizens. Records show that within a few years, the cemetery went from a few dozen permanent residents to more than 33,000.

In the grounds there is also the Communards' Wall (French Mur des Fédérés) against which 147 communards, the leaders of the Paris Commune were shot on May 28, 1871 after the fall of the commune.

Bill Richardson[?] wrote a book called Waiting for Gertrude which is set in the cemetery. The characters in the book are cats, reincarnated from those buried within.

There are many famous people buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Some of them are:

The grave of Chopin
Larger version

  • Nearest Metro: Père Lachaise (lines 2 and 3);
  • Main entrance: boulevard de Menilmontant.

See also: List of other famous cemeteries

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