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Visit the Père Lachaise

Père Lachaise is certainly the largest and most interesting cemetery in Paris, with its abundant vegetation and macabre terrain. You’ll find the tombs of a great number of famous artists, singers, actors, writers and other historic personalities, which makes the walk through the cemetery a bit like a pilgrimage. Stunning funeral monuments invite a certain amount of nostalgia as you discover this beautiful Parisian locale.

Stunning Architecture

Located on a wooded hill overlooking Paris, in a working-class neighborhood, the Père Lachaise Cemetery was opened under Napoleon’s orders in 1804. At the outset, it didn’t seem destined for success. A clever PR plan was instigated to draw interest from perspective clients. The disinterment and re-burial of 16th century playwright Molière and famed fable-writer La Fontaine would be required before the cemetery became the most coveted final resting place of the Parisian bourgeoisie.

Père Lachaise was the first cemetery to be opened to all, regardless of creed or race. It was a model of tolerance: for the first time, each person could choose his or her own burial ritual and tomb decoration… the secret behind the audacity and originality you’ll find in grave markers throughout the cemetery. The columbarium, built in neo-byzantine style, is definitely worth a look.

Shocking Tombs

Other than the bizarre architecture that can be found throughout Père Lachaise, look for the tombs of famous people buried here. Like a giant treasure hunt, you’ll see other people, map in hand, searching for the graves of the beloved personalities they want to pay homage to. You’ll win if you find the tomb of Jim Morrison, hidden away in the 6th division. At the southeast angle of the cemetery, the wall of the Federates bore witness to a bloody episode of Parisian history: in 1871, 200 Parisian communists were executed by gunshot, ending the year-long Commune of Paris revolution.

Try to take your walk through Père Lachaise on a day when the weather is fair, with a good pair of sturdy shoes. It’s best to devote at least half a day to this visit, which you certainly won’t regret. Consider seeing the cemetery with a guide, who will help you uncover some of the secrets and mysteries of this place; it will soon become unforgettable!

The Top Must-See Graves at Père Lachaise

Georges Rodenbach: This Belgian poet's grave depicts a sculpture of a man dramatically breaking out of the stone tomb.

Molière: Under French law at the time of Molière's death, the playwright could not be given a traditional burial in consecrated land because he was also an actor. However, due to his fame, the church allowed him to be buried in the same plot of land designated for infants who had died before being baptized. Finally, his remains along that of La Fontaine's were moved to Père Lachaise in 1817.

Oscar Wilde: Never a man left short for words, Oscar Wilde, famously said before his tragic early death, that: "my wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death, one or the other has to go". His tomb was designed by Jacob Epstein and features a modernest angel taking flight. The grave had been subject to a loving kind of vandalism over the years in the form of lipstick kiss marks. Sadly the lipstick marks have been cleaned away after a recent restoration by the Irish Government.

Gertrude Stein: The woman who coined the term "The Lost Generation" was its enigmatic figurehead and her novel, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, is one of the definitive accounts of the story of Paris before and after WWI — a defining epoch for art and literature. She cultivated close relationships with giants of literature and art, people like Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Henri Matisse.

Guillaume Apollinaire: The great avant-garde poet who invented the word surrealisme, was also a friend of Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. Allen Ginsberg famously wrote a poem about his experience visiting the grave called At Apollinaire's Grave.

Marcel Proust: Author of the monumental À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, Marcel Proust's grave is certainly a pilgrimage for those who have found the time to read such a staggering work of the imagination.

Théodore Gericault: The creator of the gigantic Raft of the Medusa found in the large format gallery of the French painting section at the Louvre, can be found buried at Père Lachaise. His tomb is as grandiose as the life of the artist buried within it — having only lived to the age of 32, his works are some of the most famous and recognizable in the history of art.

Amedeo Modigliani: When Amedeo Modigliani died in Paris at the age of 35 he was virtually unknown, his death was brought on by his poverty, alcoholism, and addition to narcotics, and yet in 2010 one of his paintings achieved the record price of $68 million at action. His grave can be seen in the newer section of Père Lachaise.

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