‘Right, I’ve had an idea for our Paris trip. We’re going to visit Père Lachaise. It’s a cemetery.’ At this stage in our travels I expect nothing less than the 6am starts to beat the crowds and standing for long periods in the cold to capture the perfect night shot but visiting a Parisian graveyard? I wasn’t so sure!
As it transpired, Père Lachaise is the world’s most visited cemetery and, as well as being home to some of the most incredibly ornate graves we’ve ever seen, is the burial ground of many famous faces including Oscar Wilde, James Morrison and Frédéric Chopin. It’s a popular stop on the Parisian trail and we were ready to e*xperience a darker side of Paris tourism.
The 3 Most Famous Graves at Père Lachaise
The graves of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Frédéric Chopin are arguably the most famous and most visited in the cemetery and we planned our route to allow us to visit each of their burial places.
1 | Oscar Wilde – lipstick kisses and declarations of love
Over the years Oscar Wilde’s grave has attracted an almost cult following as visitors flocked to adorn the tomb with red lipstick kisses and declarations of love. Cleaning the lipstick marks from the tomb resulted in irreparable damage and Wilde’s family repeatedly requested that his burial place should be respected. Eventually, in 2011, a protective barrier was erected in an attempt to preserve the tomb but we still spotted plenty of lipstick marks above the glass!
It’s difficult not to get caught up in the emotion of visiting Oscar Wilde’s grave and we spent some time watching visitors leave flowers and candles with some reading his work at the graveside. A beautiful epitaph, from his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, is inscribed on the back of the grave:
‘And alien tears will fill for his
Pity’s long broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.’
2 | Jim Morrison – the music shrine
As we made our way towards Jim Morrison’s grave the air was filled with the unmistakable strains of Light my Fire, the iconic Doors song. Apparently some visitors had decided to hold an impromptu tribute to its lead singer. We arrived at his grave at the same time as the cemetery security who demanded a little respect be shown for the venue.
The flower covered grave is simple and nondescript. It is cordoned off with security barriers and some very modern tributes have popped up nearby. A colourful chewing gum covered tree stands close by and some love locks hang from the steel barriers.
3 | Frédéric Chopin – the romantic composer
The grave of the renowned Polish composer and pianist Chopin is watched over by Euterpe, the muse of music, who weeps as she contemplates a broken instrument. The sculpture is a beautiful tribute and colourful flowers lay on his graveside.
The incredible tombs in Père Lachaise
As well as the most famous graves in Père Lachaise, there are an abundance of beautiful, ornate tombs with every inscription telling a different family’s story. We wanted to share a photo round up of the 10 most fascinating graves we came across on our walk through Père Lachaise. Keep in mind, the cemetery covers a massive 110 acres so we’re certain that there are many more fascinating tombs to be discovered.
4 | Rossini
5 | Jean-Sebastien Gourlot
6 | Arman
7 | Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry
8 | Unknown
9 | Families of Legru-Lhenoret
10 | Leon Beclard
11 | Family Albertin Deron
12 | Lick ‘our faithful friend’
13 | Jack Fourniedalgnan Decede
It has to be said, a cemetery is not usually at the top of the must visit list on our travels and I was a little (make that a lot!) apprehensive when Dave suggested we go to Père Lachaise!
As it turns out, it is the most visited cemetery in the world and hosts frequent walking tours together with a constant stream of local visitors and tourists. A walk around the cemetery is a popular outing and we understand why having spent some time exploring.
The graves of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Chopin are a mix of the beautiful and the fascinating and the cemetery is filled with incredibly ornate and unique tombs. It’s quiet and peaceful and the perfect spot for a long afternoon walk to take in a little piece of Paris history!
Planning a visit to Père Lachaise
Planning a route through Père Lachaise
Entrance: There are several entrances to the cemetery. Porte Gambetta is an excellent starting point for a visit as this allows you to start walking from the top of the hill and, I for one, prefer downhill to uphill walking!
The cemetery: The cemetery is split into divisions which are signposted and marked by paths.
- Oscar Wilde: Division 89
- Jim Morrison: Division 6
- Frederic Chopin: Division 11
Entering through the Gambetta gate starts the walk at the high numbered divisions and Oscar Wilde’s tomb is one of the first on the route.
Map: Maps can be purchased in some of the small florists surrounding the entrance. We did our planning through the Pere Lachaise website before we visited and knew approximately where the graves of Wilde, Morrison and Chopin were located. Maps may also be available in the cemetery but we didn’t come across any.
How to get to Père Lachaise
Metro: Take Metro Line 3 to Père Lachaise. As above, it’s best to stay on the metro for an extra stop to Gambetta as this allows you to start walking from the top of the hill. Exit via the main entrance and board the Metro at the Père Lachaise stop.