(I am presently on vacation in Paris, Istanbul and Venice. I will continue with my blogs weekly on Thursdays and mention some of the things that are catching my eye. Happy vacation to each of you.)
Cimetière du Père Lachaise is one of the top tourist attractions in Paris, France. It is in all probability the largest collection of deceased human talent in the world. For sure it is the most visited graveyard in the world. With so many interred famous people, the locale is a must see. You might be thinking this is a rather morbid way to spend an afternoon but consider it a most unusual who’s who and a different type of museum.
The cemetery covers 110 acres and has thousands of tombstones. At the entrance are signs pointing you in the direction of the very famous. You will walk down shaded cobblestone streets and it becomes like a city with a city. The amount and variety of grave art is staggering.
You can book a walking tour or go on your own. If you chose the later, you can take the Paris Metro (subway) to the stop Philippe August on line 2 which lets you out right at the main entrance. If you get off at the Père Lachaise stop, you will be a bit of a distance from a side entrance. Actually the stop most people prefer is the stop at Gambetta on line 3 that lets you out at an entrance very near the tomb of Oscar Wilde. You then walk downhill to visit the rest of the cemetery.
Here are four of the residents there. On the internet, you will find dozens and dozens of the most gifted talent of the last two hundred years who call this unique cemetery their final resting place.
The grave of Oscar Wilde is probably the most famous tomb in Père Lachaise. Wilde died in France after leaving England to avoid the shame of his conviction for ‘gross indecency.’ His legendary wit is said to have extended to his deathbed, where he is supposed to have quipped – “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” Today the monument stands covered in lipstick where women kiss the stone. There must be a reason for this but I have yet to find out why.
Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, has a very simple tomb but it is one of the most popular in the cemetery. After Morrison died in 1971, of a suspected drug overdose in Paris, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Père Lachaise. When the cemetery placed a plain marker on the site, it was stolen. The same thing happened to a bust of Morrison placed on his gravestone. Many visitors leave gifts on Morrison’s gravesite, but many also use his gravestone as a giant bulletin board, leaving poems and all sorts of messages. In 2008, the cemetery hired a guard to ensure that visitors to Morrison’s grave did no more damage. Now a simple block of stone bears the message, in Greek, “According to his own demon.”
Chopin is the master of compositions for the solo piano. His work still dazzles audiences everywhere and is a must for anyone learning to play the piano. Chopin grew up in Warsaw, Poland, but settled in France in later life. Chopin died in Paris after a long battle with lung disease. His body was buried in Père Lachaise but his heart was removed and buried in his homeland. His grave is usually adorned with many bunches of flowers, and is notable for a statue of the muse of music who weeps as she contemplates a broken lyre.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Molière, was one of the greatest comic playwrights of all time. Molière’s death was as unusual as his plays. Molière suffered for many years from TB. Despite his illness, Molière insisted on performing in his play Le Malade Imaginaire (The Hypochondriac). In this play, a man suffers terribly from illnesses he does not have. Molière, on the other hand, was suffering terribly from a real illness. While playing the part of the hypochondriac, he had a coughing fit and died later at home. Since Molière was an actor, he was not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. His remains were finally transferred to hallowed ground in 1871.
So many interesting lives to contemplate as you walk through this extremely interesting site. If you’re in Paris, don’t miss it.