Père Lachaise: A History


Père Lachaise: An Eerie Look at History

One rainy spring day I dragged my mother through the hills of Père Lachaise Cemetery. Why did I do this? To see one of France's most famous cemeteries and to see the graves of some famous people. I know, not exactly the happiest way to see Paris, but it's pretty and interesting if you like history and don't get creeped out by cemeteries.

Largest Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery is in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. It is also the largest of Paris (110 acres). Graveyard were quickly becoming filled inside of Paris. And while many older cemeteries were being emptied into the catacombs, three large cemeteries sprung up: Montparnasse, Montmartre, and Père Lachaise.

Tombs at Pere Lachaise

Equal Opportunity

After the opening of the cemetery in 1804, Napoleon declared that anyone could be buried in Père Lachaise cemetery, regardless of race or religion. And while this idea was great, it was still too far from the center of Paris and Roman Catholics did not want to be buried in a cemetery not blessed by the church. But since the cemetery was intended for all, not just one religion, it was not about to become blessed by one church, so marketing strategies were devised to get more people.

Marketing Strategies

In the beginning, many people were not interested in being buried in Père Lachaise cemetery, so as a marketing strategy, they had the bodies of Molière and Jean de la Fontaine moved to Père Lachaise. After that, people were lining up to be buried with famous French people.

Even Bacon is Here

Parisians Only

The cemetery has a rule that only people who have lived in Paris or who have died in Paris are allowed to be buried in Père Lachaise. Of course these means some famous people were allowed to be buried in the cemetery because they fell into one of those categories. Some famous people in Père Lachaise include Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Edith Piaf, and Gertrude Stein.


Seeing that the cemetery is so popular, different plans for graves are available. People can lease graves for a certain number of decades. Once the lease is up, the grave is moved to an ossuary. It is possible to buy a plot for perpetuity, but those can be very very expensive. But the cemetery has this in place to accommodate the waiting list and to make due with the now limited space that it has.

Take the Metro line 3 to Gambetta to enter at the top of the hill, nearest the tomb of Oscar Wilde, then walk down the hill to see the rest of the cemetery. Otherwise it can be a steep and sometimes slippery walk.

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