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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pere Lachaise Cemetery- a Romantic Stroll?

It's not like we have an obsession with graveyards, but having been to Paris several times, I needed to see it and strike it off my list. It's often called the city of the dead due to its size (118 acres) and number of celebrities buried here; the biggest in the east of the city; situated in the 20th arrondissement. It's supposed to be beautiful and associated with a romantic stroll on a Sunday afternoon.
"At the time of its opening, the cemetery was considered to be situated too far from the city and attracted few funerals. Consequently, the administrators devised a marketing strategy and in 1804 with great fanfare organized the transfer of the remains of La Fontaine and Molière." All of a sudden, it was chic to be buried there. Now there is an impenetrable waiting list, I'm told. To cut to the chase, I was underwhelmed and not inspired.I had expected more trees and shrubs. Most graves are ancient, over a hundred years old and have no flower decorations; some have a few weeds.Many graves are in need of repair and their tombstones suffer from neglect and rust.
Among its most famous occupants are Chopin, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde. The compound is like a mazed little city and the graves are hard to find in spite of a map you can buy for 2 EUR. There were several groups led by tour guides, an indicator that they were at a famous grave. Mostly French and unknown to us.I joked about the shape of some of the older, tall, upright tombs. They resembled a phone booth, a Porta Cabins, or Disney castles with turrets. Why Oscar Wilde is so popular, I don't know. It has a modern shape in contrast to the rest and is covered in lipstick marks.But see for yourselves.
It also contains a good number of memorials for fallen soldiers of the two big wars, people who were killed in 1871 when Bismarck invaded Paris, the communards de 1871, Abelard and Heloise and a separate memorial to most of the known concentration camps. For a complete list of all who are buried there see Wikipedia.
It has a big crematorium too and an area for modern, anonymous burials, so called memorial gardens.

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