The Père-Lachaise cemetery is a Parisian monument, a sprawling 44-hectare park and an open-air museum rolled into one. A stroll through its grounds always reveals something new. More than 3 million people visit the cemetery every year. Here are some of the must-see graves in this unique Parisian burial site.
A journey into Parisian heritage
Père-Lachaise is both Paris’s most visited cemetery and its most sought-after burial ground. It is the final resting place of many famous people. A stroll among the graves is an unusual and rewarding lesson in French and international cultural heritage. Honoré de Balzac, Colette, Eugène Delacroix, Raymond Radiguet, Maria Callas and Sarah Bernhardt are among the cemetery’s notable names. The list of famous individuals who are buried here includes 40 singers, 40 composers and 75 painters.
The star-crossed lovers Heloise and Abelard were the first people of note to be buried here in 1817, when the cemetery was still new. The remains of Molière and Jean de La Fontaine were relocated to the adjoining plots the same year, although for various reasons no one knows for certain whether it is really their bones that lie in the graves. Frédéric Chopin’s grave does indeed contain his body, but his heart is buried in Poland. The composer, who was afraid of being buried alive, had asked for his heart to be removed after he died.
A few madeleines placed on the stone by the writer’s fans are a clue that you’ve reached the tomb of Marcel Proust, while the poet Alfred de Musset’s grave site is flanked by a weeping willow, his favourite tree. Jim Morrison’s tomb is the most visited one in the cemetery. Legions of fans come to pay their respects to the singer every year on 3 July, the anniversary of his death.
Elsewhere in the cemetery, a number of memorials pay tribute to the victims of French history – notably the Mur des Fédérés, where insurgents were lined up and shot during the Paris Commune uprising.
More information on the history of Paris
Strange and scandalous tales
Far from being a lugubrious burial ground, Père-Lachaise is a favourite place for a lovers’ stroll, as it features a wealth of romantic and even erotic sculptures.
A stone angel with huge outstretched wings adorns the tomb of the Irish author Oscar Wilde, who went into exile in France towards the end of the 19th century after being disowned by his native country for the crime of gay sex. Over the years, admirers have covered the tomb with lipstick kisses and graffiti containing messages of love.
The eternal sleep of another of the cemetery’s inhabitants is anything but restful. The tomb of Victor Noir, a journalist killed during the Paris Commune uprising, is decorated with a funerary statue depicting the exact position in which his body was found: lying on his back with a very prominent bulge in in his trousers. This led to a myth that touching the bulge would enhance fertility. Over the years, so many visitors have done so that the protuberance has become discoloured.
The list of famous people with turbulent love lives who are buried at Père Lachaise includes Félix Faure, a former French president who died in the bed of his lover. Guillaume Apollinaire lies only a few metres away from his mistress Marie Laurencin, who was buried with their love letters placed on her heart. Edith Piaf was laid to rest here, and four of her many lovers are buried nearby.
An atypical and constantly changing green space
Boasting an extraordinary variety of plants, this sprawling park combining elegant landscaping and semi-wild areas always has something to spark the visitor’s interest. The cemetery has more than 5,000 trees, including a 100-year-old maple tree 12 metres in height, a chestnut tree with a circumference of 3.45 metres, also dating back 100 years, and unusual varieties such as a smoke bush, a gutta-percha tree and two gingko biloba maidenhair trees.
A number of fine sculptures – beautiful examples of funerary art – give the cemetery added aesthetic appeal. A couple reunited for eternity, a sobbing widow, a soldier in the midst of battle and a man cradling his wife’s head are just a few of the many ornate figures to be found on the 70,000 tombs in Père-Lachaise. The sheer size of the cemetery means you’ll discover something new each time you visit. As you stroll around the well-kept alleys, you’ll stumble upon shady little corners that provide a pleasant refuge in the heat of summer.
The Père-Lachaise cemetery has a completely different ethos at different times of year. It is romantic in springtime, filled with glorious colour in the autumn and faintly mysterious when blanketed by snow in winter. Its constant transformation over the seasons is a delight for amateur photographers.
More information on things to see near the Père-Lachaise cemetery
Guided tours of Père-Lachaise
If you’re interested in learning some fascinating facts about the famous people buried at Père-Lachaise, take a tour with a specialist. You’ll hear all kinds of interesting stories and anecdotes :