I had read about the many famous grave sites that you could visit, but I opted to wander and see what I found on my own. The wine that I had previously drank before this adventure, had me feeling a bit more spontaneous, because typically I'd grab map at the front gate and plan things out. I decided it would be more fun to see what I ran into. I was almost immediately distracted and pulled in one direction when I saw particular statues, that I wanted to get a closer look at.
As you walk passed the graves, your eyes will search over the names carved into the stone, then whatever other details are and when my eyes passed by 'Chopin' it didn't quite register in my brain, it took me about two steps toward the next headstone and then a..."whoa, wait a second"...and I stepped back like someone had pressed the rewind button and there I was staring at the name again.
Cemeteries are a place that I try to make time for, whenever visiting a new city. It's always an interesting perspective on history. I want to say it's like step back in time, when I'm within the walls, but really it's just a place that lets my consciousness run wild with possible stories of what was before me.
Mother nature was really showing off the evening that I was there. I was lucky for the clear and dry skies that I was beneath. As the blood orange light hastily doused the tops of the trees, the statues, the tombs and was slowly soaking whatever was in it's path, making it's way to the ground. I barely saw anyone there and when I did, it almost startled me. Once you get far enough in, you can hardly hear the city that surrounds you. It's quiet, dead quiet.
I'm not an art aficionado, not the painting kind at least, not just yet. The art my eyes love to see: architecture and statues, oh my goodness, do I love a good statue! With that being said, some of the most memorable statues for me that I've seen, have been in cemeteries. There in Pere Lachaise and in another incredible cemetery in Vienna (that'll be in a separate blog, don't you worry). The statues of men fighting, grasping their knives in one hand, muscles flexed, veins popping out and a look of fury frozen upon their faces. Artists that are able to carve into stone and marble, a true emotion a moment in time, not just a scene. In the cemeteries, you see the faces on the statues and you see sorrow, you see heartbreak, but grieving isn't an emotion, it's a state that you can completely lose yourself in. When I look at these statues, I see them mourning and it really makes me wonder, who these artists were, that were able to form something so hard, into something so human. Does that make sense?
The main entrance is on the Boulevard de Menilmontant. If you were to walk just up that walkway, the ground gradually going up hill, you'll come to a look out point, which gives you a little something you didn't realize you'd be able to see from there- okay well now you do, but I didn't when I was there!
The cemetery is opened everyday until 6pm, depending on the time that you think you'll spend there, just like any sights, I'd personally suggest an early morning stroll or just before closing. When you start to wonder how long you've been walking for, know that this cemetery takes up 110 acres and that's not even the biggest cemetery in Paris! Because a lot of central Paris had been destroyed or as some will say "renovated", most of the buildings you see in the center were built in the 1850's. Which, then makes beautiful Pere Lachaise, just a tad bit older- the cemetery was established in 1804. A 5 year old girl, was the very first person to be buried within it's walls.
Despite the fact that this cemetery is well recognized around the world now, it may surprise you to know, that the cemetery was not a huge hit with the city until years later. It was too far from the center of the city and most of the citizens in the area being Roman Catholics, were put off by the idea of putting their dead in a place that had not been blessed by the Church! Knowing they must do something one way or another to promote this cemetery, they decided to have the remains of several famous individuals moved and re-buried in Pere Lachaise. This really set the stage for the cemetery, the people of Paris, could be buried among the famous!
Still to this day, it is a working cemetery, but you can't just die to get in. Very few plots are available and a waitlist is just the beginning of what you must do, to qualify for your resting place. You'll see while you are there, space is limited. There's just enough room to walk along the edge of a burial, to drop your fresh flowers and to stand before the grave.