The cemetery of Père Lachaise

When we talk about places to visit in Paris, of course we think: Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Champs Elysées …etc. In the first 10 answers we always find: Father Lachaise. Incredible, isn’t it ? that in the City of Lights one of the top 10 visits is a cemetery.

This article is part of a series, you can find the one on “incredible graves” or the one on “the ghosts of Père Lachaise” by clicking on the links.

Who are you Père Lachaise ?

Let’s start by introducing Pere Lachaise. In the XVIIth century there was a Jesuit estate on the site of the cemetery: Mont-Louis. A Jesuit priest and confessor of Louis XIV lived there: François d’Aix de la Chaize. He was borned in 1624 at the chateau of AIX in the Loire. His name was to be re-spelled to become Lachaise, and he was going to give it to the cemetery.

When was the cemetery built?

The cemetery itself opened in 1804. The land had been bought by the Paris City Council and was to be used for the inhabitants of the right bank. But it was a total failure, the Parisians did not appreciate this place: too steep and outside the walls of the capital…. the suburbs! As a result, at the end of the year there were only 13 tombs. 8 years later there hasn’t been much progress: 833 tombs. Then in 1817, a stroke of genius from the town hall: to put VIPs in them. They transferred there immediately presto Molière and La Fontaine as well as the cursed lovers Heloise and Abelard. It was a success in 1830 and there were 33,000 tombs.

A few figures about this extraordinary cemetery:

  • Every year it receives more than 3.5 million visitors, making it the most visited cemetery in the world.
  • Covering an area of 43 hectares, it is currently the largest intramural green space in the capital.
  • Among the 70,000 concessions it houses are not only the graves of VIPs but also those of thousands of anonymous people, and more than 3,000 funeral operations are carried out there every year.

The cimetery and the Wars

The cemetery is also intimately linked to the last 3 conflicts that ravaged France: the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, WWI and WWII.

Franco-Prussian War and the commune of Paris: in May 1871, Père-Lachaise was the scene of a veritable civil war due to its strategic location on the hill. The Federates set up their artillery in the heart of the cemetery, but were soon surrounded by the Versaillais of Thiers on one side and the Prussians on the other. The 147 survivors were shot on 28th May 1871 in front of the wall, which later took the name of the Federated Wall, to the south of the cemetery.

WWI: on 11 November 2018, on the occasion of the commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice, the City of Paris inaugurated its Monument to the 94,415 Parisian dead and 8,000 missing from the Great War of 1914-1918. It is installed horizontally on the surrounding wall of the Père Lachaise cemetery, along the Boulevard de Ménilmontant.

WWII: in the southern part of the cemetery you will find many monuments to the victims of the camps, to the international fighters and to the FFI and FFL.

We offer guided tours of the Père Lachaise cemetery, on foot in small groups or privately, as well as virtual tours. Discover all our tours by clicking on this link.

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