It’s been a few days since we had 25 degrees and sunshine (trying to get my celsius down over here in Europe, that’s around 77 degrees Fahrenheit) so Brittany and I wanted to make the most of our beautiful day on Wednesday. In an effort to have an authentic Parisian tourist experience and enjoy the weather, we headed to an area of town that I have never been before and most likely will not return to. The 20th arrondissement is on the far east side of Paris, and home to arguably the most visited cemetery in the world: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. I previously commented that I wasn’t a fan of visiting cemeteries and yet, here I am doing it again. If you only have a few days in Paris, skip this journey entirely, it really isn’t worth it. But if you are looking for something different to do, or perhaps are a diehard Jim Morrison fan, then a visit is worthwhile.
Père-Lachaise was established by Napoléon in 1804 with the intention that “Every citizen deserves the right to be buried regardless of race or religion.” The first to be buried there was a five year old girl. Parisians did not adopt this new cemetery right away. They found it to be located too far from the city. In a rather unorthodox marketing effort, city administrators organized the transfer of remains of several famous Parisians to Père-Lachaise. Within a matter of 20 years, the cemetery was full and required expansion. It has expanded a total of five times, now encompassing 110 acres and boasting the largest size of any cemetery in Paris. Over one million people have been buried in Père-Lachaise and an additional 1-2 million remains are housed in the Aux Morts ossuary. Real estate space is at a premium in Père-Lachaise, spaces are still available if you can afford the €11,000 price tag (around $14,300) and don’t mind being on the waiting list for a while. And you better come to Paris to either live or die or else you won’t be allowed in.
There are many famous people buried in the Père-Lachaise. I would highly recommend reading more about the cemetery here. I will only expand on two of the graves that we visited. Lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison was buried in Père-Lachaise following his July 3, 1971 death in a Paris apartment. He had been living in Paris since March of that year. He routinely enjoyed long walks around the city, admiring the architecture. There is much controversy regarding his death, like mainly, if he even died at all. Most believe that he did, adding him to the 27 Club. Perhaps I should have waited until my 28th birthday to spend a few months in Paris. Morrison’s grave attracts quite the crowd of admirers and vandals alike (shown below).
Another famous grave that we visited in Père-Lachaise is that of Oscar Wilde. I honestly know zero about this 19th century writer, so you can research him here just like I did! Regardless, his headstone is something to talk about. Wilde’s gay status in the Victorian age was enough to get him put into prison. Poor living conditions in prison lead to poor health and his untimely death at the age of 46 in 1900. Although he spent most of his life in London, he lived the last few years in Paris and was buried there. His tomb was designed by Sir Jacob Epstein, and depicts a modernist angel that was once complete with a prominent piece of the male genitalia. It has since been broken off, and its whereabouts are unknown. Most recently in 2011, the tomb was cleaned of the many lipstick marks left there by admirers, and a glass barrier was installed to prevent further damage.
After our jaunt through the cemetery, we were not ready to leave the gorgeous sunshine yet. Brittany insisted the walk to Parc des Buttes Chaumont wasn’t very long and promised me a gelato on the way there. After what seemed like an hour of trudging uphill both ways (mind you we had been going uphill in the cemetery the entire time too!) I was in dire need of refreshment with no gelato stands in sight. What was at first a joke, actually turned into a great idea as we stepped into a McDonald’s to each grab ourselves a McFlurry. I would never eat a McFlurry at home and yet it was the greatest thing that I could have possibly tasted on that hot afternoon. Smaller in size and much higher in cost than it’s American counterpart, at least I felt like I could finally pronounce something right while ordering!
The Parc des Buttes Chaumont is a nice little gem in the 19th arrondissement. It is the third largest park in Paris and features a gorgeous rolling landscape (more uphill walking) and lake. Its history is actually quite interesting. In the 18th century, before the invention of the guillotine, it was the site of the gallows used for hanging criminals. After the 1789 Revolution, it became a refuse dump, a sewage deposit, and an area for cutting up horse carcasses. The site was cleaned up, terraced, and opened as a park in 1867. The Parc des Buttes Chaumont was my first authentic Parisian park experience outside of the major tourist zones. There were children everywhere, and even a funny old frenchman with a remote-controlled boat. If you can steer clear of the short-shorts runners and hundreds of dogs on leashes, you will be ready for a Parisian park experience too!