Autumn is a beautiful time to visit Père Lachaise, Paris’s most famous cemetery, and also the world’s most visited.
PERE FRANCOIS DE LA CHAISE
This 110 acre necropolis, established by Napoleon and named after the Jesuit priest Père François de la Chaise (the personal confessor of Louis XIV), is the resting place of numerous famous and extraordinary people.
Père Lachaise is like an open-air art and history museum, with marvellous sculptures, tombs, and mausoleums that tell remarkable stories
TOMB OF VICTOR NOIR
A life-sized bronze statue marks the grave of journalist Victor Noir. Shot to death in a controversial story, he looks like he just fell on that spot and dropped his hat. In an odd twist, the tomb has become a fertility symbol. Verdigris has coloured most of the statue green, but the genital area remains shiny: many women believe that placing a flower in the hat after kissing the statue and rubbing the rather prominent bulge will result in finding a perfect husband and/or getting pregnant within the year. One can clearly see the effect of decades of dedicated ‘polishing’.
TOMB OF OSCAR WILDE
A large flying Assyrian-style angel sculpted by Jacob Epstein adorns the tomb. In an act of vandalism in 1961, and what many see as homophobia, the testicles of the sculpture were broken off.
Epitaph on the tomb from Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol:
And alien tears will fill for him. Pity’s long broken urn. For his mourners will be outcast men. And outcasts always mourn.
There is a protective glass barrier covered in lipstick kisses, preserving the actual tomb from the destructive smooching of fervent fans.
The grave of SAMUEL HAHNEMANN, founder of homeopathy.
TOMB OF JIM MORRISON
The 27 year old frontman of The Doors died of heart failure, and was found by his girlfriend in the bathtub of their Paris apartment. His rather plain tomb has undergone several changes over the years due to vandalism, and is now surrounded by a protective barrier. The tombstone features a Greek inscription ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ, meaning ‘true to his own spirits’, or alternatively ‘true to his own demons’.
The tomb remains a place of pilgrimage for diehard fans who pay homage to the music legend by leaving flowers or wine, tying friendship bracelets, playing music, drinking, and also sticking their chewing gum to the tree nearby.
The joint grave of legendary French actor and singer YVES MONTAND, also known for his affair with Marylin Monroe, and his wife the equally celebrated Oscar-winning actress SIMONE SIGNORET.
The bodies of AMEDEO MODIGILIANI and his common-law wife JEANNE HEBUTERNE share a single headstone, together in death as in their short and tragic life. His inscription reads ‘Struck down by death at the moment of glory’. Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis at the age of 35, never seeing the enormous success his art would become, and also never marrying the mother of his daughter and another unborn child. 21 years old and eight months pregnant, the heartbroken Hébuterne threw herself from the fifth floor and died the day after Modigliani passed away. It took her disapproving family ten years to finally agree to her being buried with him. Her inscription says ‘Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice’.
MOLIERE, the 51-year old French playwright, actor, and poet collapsed several times on stage due to a coughing haemorrhage, performing the last play he ever wrote, Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid). Suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis for much of his life, he insisted that he complete this performance. He died hours later at his house, and never received the last rites. Since actors were not allowed to be buried in sacred ground, the King of France had to intervene with a special command. Molière’s remains were transferred to Père Lachaise in 1817 and buried next to the poet Lafontaine. He is one of France’s most honoured and influential figures, so much so that the French people often refer to their language as la langue de Molière – Molière’s language.
Dying of liver cancer at the age of 47, chanteuse and national icon EDITH PIAF’s grave is one of the most visited in the cemetery. Her funeral ceremony drew more than 100,000 fans. Her headstone carries her married name Madame Lamboukas.
Follow this link to see where Edith Piaf was born (blog post and video):
72 Rue de Belleville, Paris: Edith Piaf’s Birthplace
Among more recent graves: a tragic reminder of the terrorist attack at the Bataclan in 2015, a 21 year old victim, gone too soon.