In Love with Death. O Great Vishnu, Please Grant me an Extra Arm.
10.04.2013 12 °C
I guess if you want different sightseeing experience in Paris, Père-Lachaise Cemetery should qualify. It's made for travellers who are jaded by grandiose structures, or people who want to pay homage to their idols.
The architectures of the places of dwelling for the dead are as diverse and as interesting as the places of dwellings for the living, if not more so.
And this necropolis also houses grandiose structures that match those built for the living. There're tombs that best described as mausoleums, and others in cosy human scale. And then there're even some that try to show that they celebrate death rather than lament it.
The religious iconography in cemetery is especially interesting to me, as usual.
The only different between the dwellings for the departed and the living is that we don't visit this so much to become blasé about it (unless you're grave tenders of major cemeteries). At least I haven't, compare to the rest of Paris. I was fascinated with it since my 1st visit to the Waverley Cemetery at Bronte in Sydney some 10 years or so ago. It was love at the 1st sight. I wouldn't say I love it to death. It's probably an undying love.
If you get there by metro, don't get of at the namesake metro station Père-Lachaise because its exits aren't close to either gates of the Cemetery. You should get off either Gambetta or Philippe Auguste metro. Both metros' exits take only about 3 minutes walk to the Cemetery's north and south gates (the 2 WCs are also near the 2 gates).
Enter via Gambetta Gate (Porte Gambetta) makes sense for 2 reasons. Gambetta Gate has a booth where you can get a map of the Cemetery. I didn't notice similar booth at the Philippe Auguste Gate. Even if you don't try to locate any particular grave, it's probably a good idea to have the map just so that you won't get lost. Don't laugh, it's entirely probable as this necropolis has the size of a small town. Even if you want to get lost, but you also want to get out after getting lost, unless you want to spend the night here.
I downloaded a map of the Cemetery before hand. This is a good idea if you plan to visit or pay homage to a particular tomb. This is more preferable than getting the map there when you then have to spend your valuable sightseeing time studying and planning it. So I don't really need to get into the Gambetta Gate for the map. But there's still the 2nd reason that you should.
The Cemetery is actually a hill slopping downward from Gambetta. So if you walk from Philippe Auguste Gate (like I had), you have to walk uphill. Of course, some people actually prefer to walk uphill because they find climbing down stairs is harder than climbing up stairs.
As this necropolis is quite large, to help us from becoming lost souls, the place is divided into Divisions, and within it further subdivided into Sections. And streets are also named to help us navigate around easier. All these are marked with signposts.
A number of tourists who saw me carrying a map stopped me to either ask for directions or to borrow my map. This suggests that the map is quite handy to have.
The map of the cemetery I downloaded from the internet has a huge list of notable names of people who buried here, of most are names I'm not familiar with. This isn't a bad things because if I know many names, I'll have to play favourites. Well, I don't have that problem, my shortlisted names are quite short:
7 (3) James Rothschild - industrialist
7 (5) Camille Pissaro - painter
6 (1) Jim Morrison - musician
11 (5) Federic Chopin - musician
48 (1) Honoré de Balzac - writer
89(4) Oscar Wilde - playwright
94 (1) Gertrude Stein - writer
97 (8) Edith Piaf - singer
The first numbers above denote Division numbers, and the numbers in round brackets indicates Section numbers.
Despite these systematic numberings that charts the necropolis the way Paris itself was mapped, it isn't easy to locate any particular tombstone. Because the above numbering specifies only down to a Section, but there could be many plots within a Section.
And then there're other complication. E.g. it took me almost nearly 10 mins to locate Edith Piaf's resting place.
As I was searching for her grave, I overheard a couple of young Frenchmen utter her name in an area nearby her tomb (according to my reading of my map). Thinking they already found her grave site, I stopped them to ask. They said they were still looking for her tomb, and pointed somewhere quite a bit of distance away. I couldn't convince them it's very nearby. Like within 3m radius.
I almost gave up (I was cold and hungry). But I didn't want to cut the loss. I persisted and inspected every single gravestone in that Section. Finally I found a relatively unassuming tombstone that marked "Piaf-Gasson". It's entirely possible that we only know these famous people by their stage or pen names while their graves are marked with their real names.
A group of French speaking tourist yelled in excitement in my direction, "Voilà !". They too had been looking for her grave and knew it was around the area, and was only too glad when they realised I found it because I was keenly taking photos.
Jim Morrison's grave is even smaller and so very easily escapes from his fans. If it weren't for the many fresh flowers and the group of tourists gathered around his grave, I would have to spend more time in locating it.
If you think all you need is using those 2 clues: grave sites
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