The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


Today, 1 November, is All Saints' Day and a public holiday in France. Traditionally, families visit the graves of their departed loved ones.

The graveyards of Paris receive visitors all year round, of course, because of the famous names on the tombstones. Fans of Serge Gainsbourg, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir go to the cemetery at Montparnasse. Across the city, in Montmartre, a steady stream of cinephiles pay homage to François Truffaut

The most famous graveyard in Paris, and perhaps the world, is the Cimetière du Père Lachaise at the eastern edge of the city. Established by Napoleon in 1804, it's named after a 17th century Jesuit clergyman whose house once stood where today there's the cemetery chapel. 

The leafy, cobbled lanes of Pere LachaiseFar from being morbid, a stroll through Père Lachaise is quite wonderful. Its cobbled paths, shady trees and 19th century tombs (right) give an overpowering sense of the romantic and gothic. Parts of it are especially romantic. Letters and pledges are still left at the crypt of legendary tragic lovers Abelard and Heloise. 

Just as passionate are the visitors to the grave of murdered 18th century journalist Victor Noir, whose monument is a statue of him which features a prominent bulge in the trouser area. Reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities, this bulge is rubbed and kissed by amorous visitors.

Despite all this activity, there are plenty of quiet areas in this huge graveyard for those seeking to escape the hubbub of tourists. And those tourists are here for the star names with which Père Lachaise trumps all its rivals.

Oscar Wilde is buried here, under a large art deco angel. (The custom is to kiss the momument, so it's always covered in lipstick.) Other famous writers here include Marcel Proust, Molière, Gertrude Stein (with her partner Alice B. Toklas), Richard Wright, Balzac, Apollinaire and Paul Eluard.

Paris being a traditional haven for painters, Père Lachaise has its artistic community too: Modigliani, Géricault and Delacroix, Pissaro and Seurat. And among the actors and performers here you'll find the resting place of Marcel Marceau

But apart from the perenially popular Wilde, the latter-day fame of Père Lachaise comes from the musicians buried here. Strangely, a lot of the famous musical remains here are incomplete. Chopin, who has a particularly ornate tomb, is without his heart, which is in a church in Warsaw. (We once saw a violinist play beside Chopin's tomb, which was rather beautiful.) The ashes of Maria Callas were once housed here before being stolen and eventually cast into the Aegean sea. And Rossini's crypt is empty, his remains having been returned to Florence in Italy.

Still lying undisturbed and in one piece - well, what's left of them - are Bizet and Stephane Grappelli.

But two music stars outshine all other residents in Père Lachaise. Edith Piaf's family plot has traditionally been a favourite for French visitors - but with the success of the recent biopic there are more international tourists dropping by. Her grave is a simple slab of black marble, calling to mind her humble beginnings and enduring closeness to the ordinary French public. 

The tomb of Jim Morrison in Pere Lachaise, ParisAnd then there's the man who introduced the name of Père Lachaise to rock fans: Jim Morrison. While the vast numbers of excited teenagers have waned in recent years, there's still a steady stream of visitors looking for his hard-to-find tomb (left). The Greek inscription can be translated as 'True to his own spirit' or 'According to his own destiny'.

Such is the hassle his presence causes that the permanently exasperated security guards in Père Lachaise will light up with joy if you ask for directions to a non-Jim tomb. One friend of ours asked the way to Proust's grave and almost got adopted.

The days of smoking on Jim's plot and scrawling on his tombstone are long gone; today Morrison's grave is heavily protected. As well as a permanent guard or two, a crash barrier ensures that no one can physically touch the tomb. There are also two hidden security cameras: one in a tree and another in a lamp-post. 

Two metro lines run out to La Cimetière du Père Lachaise. Lines 2 and 3 both stop at a station called Père Lachaise which is near the main entrance. However, we recommend that you take line 3 and get off at Gambetta. You'll then go in the back entrance, which is closer to Wilde and Piaf - and the rest of your walk will be downhill through the cemetery past Morrison's tomb to the main entrance and Père Lachaise metro station.

An appropriate French song at this moment would be M83 and 'Graveyard Girl':

More ...

[Read More...]

Actions: E-mail | Permalink |

Search Articles

Nuggets from our archive

2000 - 'Rock Criticism: Getting it Right', written by Mark Godfrey. A thought provoking reflection on the art of rock criticism.