By Anthony Laverty
Romance is dead. Well if not dead then it does, at least, reside in one of the most famous graveyards in the world. The Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris’s 20th arrondissement has become one of the most unlikely destinations for tourists, lovers and hopeless romantics the world over. The reason? For the last two hundred years some of the world’s most notable artists, writers and thinkers have made this their final destination, making Père Lachaise the go to graveyard for the rich, famous or artistically tortured souls.
The list of residents in repose reads like a veritable who’s who of art, literature and music. This cultural haven on the way to heaven is also the most exclusive club with the ultimate entry fee.
Where else can you take a stroll and while away a pleasant afternoon in such lofty company?
The list of famous and infamous cultural icons who have made this their final resting place is enormous and the stories and traditions which surround some of them is endlessly entertaining. Artists resting here include Delacroix, Seurat, Max Ernst, Modigliani and Pissarro. Writers are in abundance with Colette, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde all close enough to discuss the eternal mysteries of life and death. Musicians, singers and composers who now lie in silence, number amongst them, Bizet, Frederic Chopin, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison. Dancers, photographers, lovers and muses they are all here.
If Paris was the cultural hub of the universe and a magnet to artists and thinkers from all over the world then inevitably there was going to be a high proportion of these cultural touchstones buried in Père Lachaise cemetery. But although it is certainly the largest graveyard in the city with an estimated one million bodies interred, this does not explain the popularity of this site for the glitterati of the grave.
Père Lachaise and its reputation and legend is the result of an ingenious marketing plan by the site’s first administrators. When the cemetery was developed and opened in 1804 it was one of several sites situated north, south, east and west of the city centre. Père Lachaise being the east cemetery and placed in the 20th arrondissement was considered by most people to be too far from the centre and in its first year it attracted only 13 burials.
To combat this lack of popularity it was arranged that the remains of two prominent writers were transferred to the cemetery to improve its image. The remains of Molière, France’s most popular playwright and La Fontaine, a poet of great renown arrived and over the next few years the strategy was repeated until the body count grew steadily with people eager to lie for eternity in the company of Paris’s most famous sons and daughters. The strict policy of the cemetery means that only those living or more importantly dying in Paris can be buried there and there is always a huge waiting list.
A long held tradition of Père Lachaise is for star crossed lovers or those seeking true love to leave letters in tribute at the crypt of Pierre Abélard a medieval philosopher and scholar and his true love Héloïse in the hope that they find everlasting love.
So if you would like to walk amongst the spirits of long dead artists and poets with your loved one and soak up that unique atmosphere or if you would like to pay your respects to one of your heroes you can catch the Paris Metro to the Père Lachaise station, Boulevard de Ménilmontant.
On the other hand if your budget won’t stretch to that take a virtual tour at