Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Entrée cimetière p lachaise.jpg
Year established 1804
Country France
Location Paris
Type Public, non-denominational
Size 44 hectares (110 acres)
Number of interments over 1 million
Looking down the hill at Père Lachaise

Père Lachaise Cemetery (French: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, [simtjɛːʁ pɛːʁ laʃɛːz]; officially, cimetière de l'Est, "East Cemetery") is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, France (44 hectares (110 acres)),[1] though there are larger cemeteries in the city's suburbs.

Père Lachaise is in the 20th arrondissement, and is reputed to be the world's most-visited cemetery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the graves of those who have enhanced French life over the past 200 years. It is also the site of three World War I memorials.

The cemetery is on Boulevard de Ménilmontant. The Paris Métro station Philippe Auguste on line 2 is next to the main entrance, while the station called Père Lachaise, on both lines 2 and 3, is 500 metres away near a side entrance. Many tourists prefer the Gambetta station on line 3 as it allows them to enter near the tomb of Oscar Wilde and then walk downhill to visit the rest of the cemetery.

History and description

The cemetery takes its name from the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise (1624–1709), who lived in the Jesuit house rebuilt in 1682 on the site of the chapel. The property, situated on the hillside from which the king during the Fronde, watched skirmishing between the Condé and Turenne, was bought by the city in 1804. Established by Napoleon in this year, the cemetery was laid out by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart, and later extended.

Père Lachaise Cemetery was opened on the 21st of May 1804. The first person buried there was a five-year old girl named Adélaïde Pailliard de Villeneuve, the daughter of a door-bell of the Faubourg St. Antoine. Napoleon Bonaparte as a consul declared that “Every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion”. [2]

Several new cemeteries replaced the Parisian ones, outside the precincts of the capital: Montmartre Cemetery in the north, Père Lachaise in the east, and Montparnasse Cemetery in the south. At the heart of the city, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, is Passy Cemetery.

At the time of its opening, the cemetery was considered to be situated too far from the city and attracted few funerals. Moreover, the Christians refused to have their graves in a place that had not been blessed by the Church. Consequently, the administrators devised a marketing strategy and in 1804, with great fanfare, organised the transfer of the remains of La Fontaine and Molière. 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 (by tradition, lovers or lovelorn singles leave letters at the crypt in tribute to the couple or in hope of finding true love) (*see disputation).

This strategy achieved its desired effect when people began clamouring to be buried among the famous citizens. Records show that, within a few years, Père Lachaise went from containing a few dozen permanent residents to more than 33,000. Père Lachaise was expanded five times: in 1824, 1829, 1832, 1842 and 1850. In 1804, the Père Lachaise had contained only 13 graves. The following year there were only 44 and 49 in 1806, 62 in 1807 and 833 in 1812. Today there are over 1 million bodies buried there, and many more in the columbarium, which holds the remains of those who had requested cremation.[3]

The Communards' Wall (Mur des Fédérés) is also located in the cemetery. This is the site where 147 Communards, the last defenders of the workers' district of Belleville, were shot on 28 May 1871 – the last day of the "Bloody Week" (Semaine Sanglante) in which the Paris Commune was crushed.

The Crematory and Columbarium

A funerary chapel was erected in 1823 by Etienne-Hippolyte Godde at the exact place of the ancient Jesuit house. This same Neo-classical architect created the monumental entrance a few years later.

A columbarium and a crematorium of a Neo-Byzantine style were designed in 1894 by Jean Camille Formigé.

Père Lachaise today

Père Lachaise is still an operating cemetery and accepting new burials. However, the rules to be buried in a Paris cemetery are rather strict: people may be buried in one of these cemeteries if they die in the French capital city or if they lived there. Being buried in Père Lachaise is even more difficult nowadays as there is a waiting list: very few plots are available.[4] The gravesites at Père Lachaise range from a simple, unadorned headstone to towering monuments and even elaborate mini chapels dedicated to the memory of a well-known person or family. A lot of the tombs are about the size and shape of a phone booth, with just enough space for a mourner to step inside, kneel to say a prayer, and leave some flowers.

The cemetery manages to squeeze an increasing number of bodies into a finite and already crowded space. One way it does this is by combining the remains of multiple family members in the same grave. In many parts of North America, such a custom is unheard of, as each body is presumed to have its own casket, vault, and plot of land. But at Père Lachaise, it is not uncommon to reopen a grave after a body has decomposed and inter another coffin. Some family mausoleums or multi-family tombs contain dozens of bodies, often in several separate but contiguous graves. Shelves are usually fitted out to accommodate them.

In relatively recent times, Père Lachaise has adopted a standard practice of issuing 30-year leases on gravesites, so that if a lease is not renewed by the family, the remains can be removed, space made for a new grave, and the overall deterioration of the cemetery minimized. Abandoned remains are boxed, tagged and moved to Aux Morts ossuary, in Père Lachaise cemetery.[5]

Plots can be bought in perpetuity, for 50, 30 or 10 years, the latter being the least expensive option. Even in the case of mausoleums and chapels, coffins are most of the time below ground.


Among those interred here are:


Grave of François Arago


Grave of Sarah Bernhardt



Cremated remains of Isadora Duncan in the Columbarium


Grave of Paul Éluard


Fourier's grave






Grave of François Kellermann



Grave of Joachim Murat


Grave of Michel Ney



The grave of Édith Piaf


Le Silence (1842) by Antoine-Augustin Préault


Grave of Louis Suchet




  • Countess Marie Walewska – Napoleon's mistress, credited for pressing Napoleon to take important pro-Polish decisions during the Napoleonic Wars. Only her heart is entombed here; her other remains were returned to her native Poland.
  • Sir Richard Wallace – English art collector and philanthropist
  • Eduard WiiraltEstonian artist
  • Oscar Wilde – Irish novelist, poet and playwright. By tradition, Wilde's admirers kiss the Art Deco monument while wearing lipstick. Wilde died in 1900 and was initially buried in the Cimetière de Bagneux. His remains were transferred in 1909 to Père Lachaise. The tomb is also the resting place of the ashes of Robert Ross, who commissioned the monument.
  • Jeanette Wohl – French literary editor, longtime friend and correspondent of Ludwig Börne
  • Richard Wright – American author, wrote Native Son and other American classics


See also

  • Category:Burials at Père Lachaise Cemetery



External links

Coordinates: 48°51′36″N 2°23′46″E / 48.860°N 2.396°E / 48.860; 2.396

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