29 Feb 2012

The Beautiful Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

On a recent trip to Paris I visited the Père Lachaise cemetery for a second time. It's a very peaceful place, and well worth a visit - especially on a sunny weekday in Paris (Mondays are good, as most museums are shut).

Most people visit to pay their respects (or just tick off the list) Jim Morrison of the Doors' grave. It's hidden behind a few others, and always crowded with tourists. One of my favourite graves is a very plain one - that of Amedeo Modigliani, the Italian artist who lived and died in France at the tragic age of 35.

Another famous inhabitant is Oscar Wilde, whose grave was recently cleaned and protected with a perspex screen (after years of women putting lipstick kisses on the grave, which was slowly eroding it). People now just kiss the perspex, which casts some interesting shadows.

Another artist remembered here is Jacques-Louis David, who painted my favourite painting -  "The Farewell of Telemachus & Eucharis" (owned by the Getty Collection in Los Angeles). Although he has a memorial here, his body is buried in Brussels - only his heart lies here.

There are hundreds of old tombs and graves, with elaborate decoration and much rust, which can be seen just wandering around, whichever route you take around the massive cemetery.

I have only visited in winter, when the lanes are lined with leaf-less trees. I would love to return in spring, when the place is filled with blossom, but in winter it is so picturesque, with long shadows cast by the low sun.

On the western side of the cemetery is a wonderful and poignant collection of memorials to the Holocaust, with incredible sculptures. No-one could fail to be moved looking at these.

N'oublions jamais - let us never forget...

It is an active cemetery, with new people buried there, as well as being cremated in the imposing crematorium in the north-west corner. Many small tombs along the walls of the crematorium are marked "inconnu incinéré" which means "unknown cremated". Most of these date back to WWII in 1943 and 1944. In the central courtyard lies a small area filled with flower arrangements for those whose cremations are taking place that day, some of the flowers already withering away.

More photos of this fascinating place can be found on my website.

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