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Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père-Lachaise; officially, cimetière de l'Est, "East Cemetery") is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, France at (48 ha, 118.6 acres), though there are larger cemeteries in the city's suburbs.

Père Lachaise is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. Located in the 20th arrondissement, it is reputed to be the world's most-visited cemetery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the graves of those who have enhanced French life over the past 200 years. It is also the site of three World War I memorials.

Père Lachaise is located on Boulevard de Ménilmontant. Métro station Philippe Auguste on line 2 is next to the main entrance, while the station called Père Lachaise, on line 3, is 500 metres away near a side entrance. (Many tourists are reported to prefer the Gambetta station on line 3 as it allows them to enter near the tomb of Oscar Wilde and then walk downhill to visit the rest of the cemetery.)

Origins

The cemetery takes its name from Père François de la Chaise (1624-1709), confessor to Louis XIV, who lived in the Jesuit house rebuilt in 1682 on the site of the chapel. The property, situated on the hillside from which the king, during the Fronde, watched skirmishing between the Condé and Turenne, was bought by the city in 1804, laid out by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart, and later extended.

The cemetery was established by Napoleon I in 1804. Cemeteries had been banned inside Paris in 1786, after the closure of the Cimetière des Innocents on the fringe of Les Halles food market, on the grounds that it presented a health hazard. (This same health hazard also led to the creation of the famous Parisian catacombs in the south of the city.) Several new cemeteries replaced the Parisian ones, outside the precincts of the capital: Montmartre Cemetery in the north, Père Lachaise in the east, and Montparnasse Cemetery in the south. At the heart of the city, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, is Passy Cemetery.

At the time of its opening, the cemetery was considered to be situated too far from the city and attracted few funerals. Consequently, the administrators devised a marketing strategy and with great fanfare organised the transfer of the remains of La Fontaine and Molière, in 1804. Then, in another great spectacle in 1817, the purported remains of Pierre Abélard and Héloïse were also transferred to the cemetery with their monument's canopy made from fragments of the abbey of Nogent-sur-Seine (by tradition, lovers or lovelorn singles leave letters at the crypt in tribute to the couple or in hope of finding true love) (see disputation).

This strategy achieved its desired effect when people began clamouring to be buried among the famous citizens. Records show that, within a few years, Père Lachaise went from containing a few dozen permanent residents to more than 33,000. Today there are over 300,000 bodies buried there, and many more in the columbarium, which holds the remains of those who had requested cremation.

The Communards' Wall (Mur des Fédérés) is also located in the cemetery. This is the site where 147 Communards, the last defenders of the workers' district of Belleville, were shot on 28 May, 1871 — the last day of the "Bloody Week" (Semaine Sanglante) in which the Paris Commune was crushed.

After that week, the cementary gained a special importance to the political left in France, manifested in annual processions sometimes drawing tens or even or hundreds of thousands of participants (some 600,000 in 1936) and led by the main leaders of the left parties and organizations. Various prominent left-wing leaders are buried in the vicinity, where a monument was also erected honouring the French Brigadists (volunteers in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War).

Burials at Père Lachaise

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References

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