Mad About Paris, Much more than a guide
It always is a fascinating game to imagine the past of an urban landscape. The Paris we know today was a bunch of villages, farmlands and walled monastries not that long ago.
The place known as the cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the largest cemetery in the city and certainly one of the most spectacular bone yards in the world, also used to be sort of a farm where vegetables were grown, wheat and grapes.
It was turned into a church-owned park later and the revolutionaries opened it for burials in the late 18th century. The first body put into the ground here belonged to an unknown modest police employee but he would get some world famous company overtime.
Today, you can stroll around the tombstones of Chopin, Molière, Rossini. Of Cherubini, Balzac, Bizet. Of Géricault, Pissaro, Proust. Of Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt, not to forget Jim Morrison, the singer of The Doors who died in Paris on July 3rd 1971 in a bathtub on the third floor of Rue Beautreillis 17 close to Place de la Bastille.
His grave, in Chapter 6, Row 2, Alley 5 has given the cemetery’s administration a lot of hard times, actually. Once Morrison was buried, an icon of the 20th century already although he was only 27, the pilgrimage began and it hasn’t stopped since. Hippies, Junkies, Doors-fans found their way to the 20th arrondissement to worship their hero, wild anecdotes circulate about nightly parties complete with sex, drugs and rock’n roll.
For whatever reason you might come here – look at it as a beautiful, calm walk as well. During the summer, Père-Lachaise is a refreshing retreat, and when you walk up to the summit running along Avenue Gambetta (the main gate sits on Boulevard de Menilmontant) you’re rewarded with great views of the city.
The tombstones gathered here form a major al-fresco exhibition of French sculpture, a panoply of 19th century culture. You don’t have to be a melancholic character to enjoy this and there’s no need to dress up as a gothic. In fact, the Parisians look at it as a small getaway, guides give nice tours to point out remarkable stones, sites and people (there are some tours in English) – so it is as always in this city, you know: even here, where death undoubtedly reigns, the visitors celebrate life.