Saturday, 24 March 2012

Pėre Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

In the early 1990s H and I used to visit Paris on a regular basis. He was working for the UN and spent a considerable amount of time at UNESCO - IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission). We would stay in a small hotel off Boulevard Garibaldi, handy for the metro and for H to get to work. When H had left I would visit galleries, museums or churches and explore different areas of the city. If it was a warm day, one of my favourite destinations was Pėre Lachaise cemetery. Setting off with my baguette for lunch, and armed with a cemetery guide, I would meander the labyrinth of winding pathways within its high walls. 
Paris's most celebrated cemetery sits on a tree covered hill overlooking the city. The land was bought by Napoleon in 1803 from Pére de la Chaise, a priest, who was Louis XIV's confessor. Here are buried distinguished people such as writer Honoré de Balzac and composer Frédéric Chopin. More recently, singer Jim Morrison, and actors Simone Signoret and Yves Montand.
For me, however, the magic of the place are the tombs, many of which have been executed by famous sculptors. It is one of the most wonderful, free, open air galleries in the world.
Amongst my favourite tombs is that of René Lalique, which incorporates a piece of his exquisite glass that has been engraved with a repouseé crucified christ 

This Lalique glass dish with little birds around the edge is our own.
Two car mascots by René Lalique
both images courtesy of Chris 73 via wikipedia
The tomb of Ernest Caillat is rather special as it was created by Hector Guimard, who designed the much admired Art Nouveau entrances to the Paris metro. 
tomb of Ernest Caillat
Metro entrance and stylistic flowers by Hector Guimard 
courtesy JHvW via wikipedia
Oscar Wilde's tomb by Jacob Epstein was not despoiled when I visited, rather the angel had red roses placed beneath it. Known as the flying angel, Epstein carved it out of Derbyshire stone. He was assisted by Eric Gill, who helped carve the wings. Gill also did the carving on the back showing the last four lines from Part IV of The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde. On the photograph you can see the marks caused by lipstick grease penetrating the stone due to kissing it. The tomb has recently been restored and a glass barrier to shield the monument has been fitted.  

Carving on the back of the tomb

Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
   The coward does it with a kiss,
 The brave man with a sword!

courtesy Adrian Pingstone via wikipedia
The grave of Edith Piaf - The Little Sparrow
Edith Piaf's grave is of no sculptural merit, but it is one of the most visited. It is always clean and polished, surrounded by lots of flowers in bunches and in pots.
courtesy Rama via wikipedia
The tomb of Théodore Géricault, one of the pioneers of the French Romantic Movement, whose major work, The Raft of Medusa, is reproduced on the side of his tomb in a low-relief panel - unfortunately it cannot be seen on this photo. Géricault's bronze figure reclines, bush in one hand, paint pallet in the other, on the top of his tomb. The sculptor of both the relief and the figure is Antoine Étex.
The Raft of Medusa by Théodore Géricault
courtesy wikipedia
This is just a brief glimpse of the cemetery. Next time you are in Paris, do make time to pay a visit. The cemetery is in the 20th arrondissement and covers an area of 110 acres. A guide to the cemetery can be obtained from the many little florist shops nearby or from the principal entries at Porte des Amandiers and Porte Gambetta.
courtesy Ambian via wikipedia
courtesy Peter Poradisch via wikipedia
via wikipedia
One of the cemetery entrances


  1. I just love the Lalique grave, and the other beautiful images you have included here. It must have been good just to wander and see what masterpieces you could discover.

    1. Dear Janice - it is the sort of place that you can wander in time and time again and find new things to see. It doesn't feel at all gloomy, but has an air of calm and peacefulness.

  2. A very interesting cemetery indeed. No wonder you enjoyed visiting it.

    1. There are several interesting cemeteries in Paris, another being in Montparnasse where many of the Impressionist painters are buried.

  3. Fascinating, rosemary. I've heard a lot about the cemetery and its amazing tombs, but have never had the chance to visit. it. Speaking of Art Nouveau, I'm presuming your trip to the ballet screening means that you missed the first part of the new BBC4 series on Art Nouveau, which dealt with its influence on Paris. Very interesting.

    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing it. Obviously you have gathered that I am interested in Art Nouveau, and luckily I knew that programme was on. It was happily recording whilst I was enjoying the ballet. I haven't watched it yet, will probably view it tonight.

  4. Even a cemetery can be a interesting place to be.
    I like your glass dish with the birds. A peace of art.
    Have a lovely weekend

    1. Dear Marijke - I do like visiting cemeteries, and it is especially interesting to visit them in other countries.
      The glass dish is something we have had for many years, but I still enjoy it.

  5. Very cool! I don't visit cemetries very often, especially ones where I don't personally know the people who are buried there, but this one looks beautiful. I think it would be awesome to visit just to see the architecture and art.

    1. Dear Marie - it is definitely somewhere very special. Visiting in the tree dabbled sunshine with the birds singing and not many people around it is just so peaceful and lovely

  6. Wow, thanks Rosemary: I'll certainly plan in a visit the next time I go. The thought that Wilde wanted to be buried there, and that I can visit Chopin's tomb: they are irresistible. Thank you.

    Is this where the Nureyev tomb is?

    1. Dear Kate, if you are in Paris and have time, it is definitely worth a visit. Unfortunately Nureyev's tomb is not there. He is buried in the Russian Cemetery in St.Geneviève-des-Bois which is on the south side of Paris 23 km from the centre.

  7. Dear Rosemary,
    What an amazing blog. I have only been to Paris once.. and never thought to go to the cemetery.
    I always thought cemeteries morbid.. but since living in Portugal, i found that they are not at all.
    I go to the cemetery with a couple of friends.. they like to take care of their husbands graves.. and we end up talking about the other graves and who they were and who are their families.. Our local cemetery is full of beautiful flowers. They are happy to have been ..
    I have learnt something today Rosemary. I will be reading this blog again.
    How great to get to travel with H. Evora 20 min from me is a UNESCO world heritage town.
    All the famous people buried there.
    Thank you so much.
    I really enjoyed reading your wonderful blogs.
    Happy weekend.
    val x x

    1. Dear Val - you are so very generous with your comments, which I do really appreciate very much.
      People do tend to feel graveyards are morbid, but as I have shown here, they are wonderful places to see sculptural stone, bronze and ironwork, and are often in peaceful and pleasant settings.
      Enjoy the rest of the weekend too.

  8. I was there a few years ago. Of course, I adore Piaf (she was half Italian, did you know? Caterina Gassion was her real name) and Lalique... what can I say? I love glass and Lalique is just fantastic!

    Last Summer my sister let me have two little kissing doves she had at her house. When I mentioned Lalique, she said:"See those? They are Lalique!" I replied: "One day, you should let me have them!" "Why wait?" she said "Take them now!" So, here they are, with me, my beautiful Lalique kissing doves!

    This was an interesting post... thank you!



    1. Dear Anna - no, I did not know Piaf was half Italian, thank you. I love glass too - Lalique in particular, but I also like the beautiful individual contemporary glass you can buy now.
      What a very kind sister you have, how very generous of her to give you the kissing doves. I know the piece you are talking about - you are a lucky girl.
      Glad you enjoyed the post Anna and thank you for your lovely comments.
      Ciao x

  9. I was there when I was fifteen. I took so many pictures of cemeteries that summer.
    For some reason I was fascinated with the old, old grave yards, and being fifteen life
    is such a new experience, hense, fasination with the counter part, death.

    Thank you for these pictures, it has been a long time, someday I would like to return : )

    1. Dear Marica - I am pleased that this post has reminded you of your teenage visit. I have always been interested in graveyards and as you can see continue to be. Not from a morbid point of view, but I love looking at the tombstones and reading the inscriptions too. When all is said and done it is a fate that befalls us all.
      I hope that you do have the opportunity to return again someday, and may be you could visit some of the other wonderful Parisian graveyards!

  10. Hello Rosemary:
    Although it can sound rather morbid when one tells others, we do like visiting cemeteries and always find them to be beguiling and yet peaceful, havens of calm in a mad and busy world.

    This is an enchanting account of 'Pere Lachaise' and reminds us so much of Kerepesi cemetery in Budapest which is our favourite.

    1. Hello Jane and Lance - I never feel that way myself, although I am aware others do. I remember staying in a little Austrian mountain village where the locals went every night and put night lights on their family graves. I did think that was a little spooky. However, H and I decided to take a walk in the evening darkness to have a look, and it wasn't at all. It was really very pleasant with all of the little lights flickering in red glasses - it felt strangely comforting and reassuring.

  11. Rosemary, I do enjoy a cemetery and thank you for showing me one in Paris. I fear I may not make it to Paris. olive

    1. Dear Olive - I remember that you said you like cemeteries. It is a wonderful place, but alas rather a long way for you. Thank you for your visit and comment.

  12. I love your photos, they're superb.

  13. Dearest Rosemary: This is such an interesting post with extraordinary photos! It made me gasp! This cemetery seems to be really worth visiting and I tell you I would have missed it hadn't you told me about it. I love meandering around and in this open-air gallery I'll be able to that. Thank you so very much for this valuable hint! PS1: My food is still swollen but the pane is less - thank you for the good wishes! Instead of going out on this perfectly sunny springday I'll have to stay on the sofa but I know what for! PS2: I had difficulties with my computer. I had already sent you a comment but in my opinion it did not work. I hope you did not get several of me... in that case - Sorry! Wishing you a wonderful Sunday and again THANK YOU! CHrista

    1. Dear Christa - First of all, I am so pleased that the pain is getting less. Fingers tightly crossed that you are going to be alright for your trip.
      Secondly - no, I have only received this one message, so no problem there. Your other ones must be floating around in the blogosphere!
      Glad you enjoyed this post about the cemetery.
      Have a wonderful trip, thanks, and take care.

  14. Dear Rosemary - I've always enjoyed walking through cemetaries, not just because the older ones can provide design inspiration, but also because so often there are interesting stories to read between the lines. Your second to last photo reminds me of a cemetary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that looks much the same. Walking past all the Neoclassic mausoleums was like walking through a miniature Athens.

    1. It is interesting the way these Neoclassic mausoleums have swept through both the old and the new world. Unfortunately modern cemeteries will never have the same appeal as those of yesteryear. The tomb stones are mostly of a uniform style without any individualism.


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