the most authentically gothic cemetery I’ve ever visited was that of Pere Lachaise in Paris. even thinking of it now conjures up images from The Woman in White (which, I know, I know, is set in London). it was one of the first places that Becca and I visited on our weekend trip to Paris. westayed at this thoroughly budget (but clean, and really not that bad) hotel just a couple of blocks from the cemetery and got there early in the morning. it was autumn when we visited, and wonderfully sunny that day. there were fallen leaves everywhere, giving that wonderful leaf-kicking crunch.
the cemetery has wide boulevards, off of which you can find many of the big-name internments, like Oscar Wilde, Honore de Balzac, Georges Bizet, Chopin, Saint-Cyr, Marcel Marceau, Moliere, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Pissaro, Proust, Seurat, and Richard Wright. but as we didn’t have much of a plan in mind, we wandered around the narrower paths of the cemetery.
established by Napoleon in 1804, Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery within the city of Paris. it was named for Francios de la Chaise, confessor to Louis XIV. cemeteries had been banned within the city limits in 1786 on the premise that they posed a health hazard. this lead to the creation of the catacombs, as well as cemeteries that fell outside the boundaries of the capital (such as the one in Montmartre). initially, the distance of Pere Lachaise from the city center proved a major disincentive for funerals, so the administrators concocted a marketing campaign that, with great fanfare, transferred the remains of La Fontaine and Moliere to the cemetery. the move worked and, in 1817, they also orchestrated the relocation of the purported remains of Piere Abelard and Heloise to the cemetery. within a few years, internments went from a few dozen to more than 33,000. there are now over 300,000 “permanent residents” buried in the Cemetery, and even more cremated remains housed in the columbarium.
the Cemetery also has special meaning to the political left (apparently). in 1871, some 147 fédérés of the Paris Commune were shot and dumped into an open trench at the foot of a wall in the cemetery. leftist groups often hold parades through the grounds on the anniversary of the massacre (28 May), the largest of which took place in 1936 when some 600,000 people participated. in an ironic twist of fate, the man purportedly responsible for the events of the “Bloody Week” that culminated in the massacre at the Communards’ Wall (Adolphe Thiers) is also buried in Pere Lachaise.
(Pere Lachaise Cemetery on wikipedia and a tourist site)
one of my favorite things from our visit to Pere Lachaise, was this black cat. we actually saw several cats — surprise, surprise in a city full of feral cats — one of which disappeared into the tangle around a gated family tomb.