Our family adventure led us next to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in the beautiful city of Paris. I know you are probably thinking a cemetery? But it is much more than simply a cemetery. It is its own city within Paris, a city for those at rest, a museum of legends, history and nature’s beauty. It is the largest in all of France. It is so popular that it attracts more than 3.5 million curious visitors a year.
When we first walked in, we were in awe of how incredibly grand it is. Sprawling gardens of graves and paths that lead you through history. Walking through the brick road streets as thousands of tall tombs and statues line the way is as strolling through a quiet neighborhood. It is a peaceful, yet haunting experience.
At first though, it did not have the popularity that it has today – which is really hard to believe when you see how unbelievably big it is with its maze-like grounds. But being outside the city limits, it really wasn’t where people wanted to go or visit or even be buried. It was in 1804 that it was created. Napoleon created the cemetery of Père Lachaise in 1804, saying that everyone has the right to be buried where they choose and such location should not be based on race or faith.
At one time, there were actually only 13 burial graves. Slowly, they tried to attract people to the new resting sites – even relocating two famous writers in an effort to get more business. After arrangements to transfer some well known remains to the cemetery, it slowly started to gain even more attention.
Abelard and Heloise
One of the most famous relocations was Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil, a forbidden love story of medieval times. She was a scholar and he was a teacher. And what, at first, began as a tutor relationship quickly evolved into much more. When she became pregnant, they were soon married, and she was whisked away to hiding in a convent for protection. However, her uncle was far from fond of the situation and he gathered a group of men and had Pierre castrated. Pierre Abélard took to the monk life thereafter and Héloïse d’Argenteuil followed on her own religious path as a nun. What ensued was what people call a tragic love story as their love was left to only be communicated through letters. Today, letters are left in honor of their tale of love and those who search for their own love story leave behind letters in hopes of finding their own romantic love.
How times have changed, now people are dying to be buried here! Ok…that was a terrible joke. It’s estimated that 2 to 3 million people are located here, whether it be in the cemetery, the crematorium or the ossuary, which is similar to that of a modern-day catacomb. It has become so popular that there really isn’t much room left for new arrivals due to the tombs being so close to each other. It is almost as hard as finding a good rental in the city. In fact, it is very similar to renting an apartment as they offer leases. One of the leases Pere Lachaise Cemetery offers is a 30-year lease which is the cheapest option; However, be sure that there are arrangements to renew your lease. If not, you will lose your resting place! They will remove you from the burial plot and find you a new home in the ossuary, while leasing out your old resting grounds. They also have 50-year leases and even eternal leases.
While exploring the maze of graves, we came across the monument of Elizaveta Stroganova, who was a Russian heiress having a large fortune. She was exiled in Paris and passed away at only 40 years of age. It was said that whomever could spend the night with her for 356 days and 366 nights would then inherit a large part of her fortune. Three people did try to take on this feat. Rumours say that mirrors were installed inside so that she was the only one that they could see no matter where you looked. The only person that would ever see who accompanied her was the watchman when bringing food. They weren’t allowed to talk to anyone! Not one was able to make it to the end without becoming crazy first. The offer remains open and they say she still walks the cemetery in search of the next person who will come stay by her side for eternity. So, beware!
One of the many unique graves that we found was that of actor Fernand Arbeot. An incredibly real like sculpture of him has him laying down while holding the face of his wife. Here he lays gazing into her face for all eternity as she mourns his loss. Another nearby sculpture shows a 9-year-old sitting on a bench with memories of a dog by his side – you can almost feel that he is still there. Sculptures on the graves are pieces of art, comparable to any one of the worlds famous museums.
We stood next to Polish composer Chopin’s grave, and if you aren’t sure you are in the right place, follow the music that plays from his burial site. However, he has a bit of a different story than the others. His remains lay buried here in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, but his heart is entombed inside a pillar in a Polish church. It is said that he was afraid of being buried alive, so, the composer asked for his heart to be removed after he died.
There are so many famous people buried here, it is like walking through a hall of fame through history. Oscar Wilde’s monument is one of the most famous that attracts a lot of fans. At one point, the family had to install a clear protective barrier to prevent fans from leaving their inscriptions to him as the family was continuously having to pay to have it cleaned up. Now, instead of leaving notes, the glass barrier is covered in kisses by people leaving their lipstick mark in admiration.
However, Jim Morrison rivals in popularity with fans coming to pay homage to his grave. It is the most visited tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. He has now been buried longer that he was alive making music and poetry, but that hasn’t slowed down people’s fandom for him. His site started as an unmarked grave and when a marker was made, it was soon stolen. A bust of him followed, but it was vandalized with graffiti. Fans even tried to carve off some of the headstone for a souvenir. Finally, a guarded barrier had to be put up to protect his site from vandals and fans. His fans are creative though, leaving their colorful mark for him on one of the nearby trees, covering it in chewed up bubble gum.
TIKTOK’S GHOST DETECTOR FILTER
After searching out some of the famous residents, we decided to try a TikTok filter. Edith and I went wanted to test out all the ghost stories that Pere Lachaise Cemetery is so deadly famous for and explore for ghosts. The stories aren’t just some spooky tales! We were frightfully surprised as it registered the presence of heat where no one and no animal was standing. Within seconds, the ghost filter picked up images of purple and blue floating in front of one of the graves, as if two were side by side right in front of us.
We tested it out again to see if it was just a fluke or if there was really something there. So, we tried at another location where we were attempting to get a ghost photo. Once again, it picked up something moving between us and the graves that lined the sidewalk. There was something or someone joining us as we walked along the cathedral like monuments. The image hovered near me at my right side before making its way through the moss-covered tombs. When we tried the ghost filter on another one of the tombs, it immediately registered heat or a presence. Directly in front of the tombs opening, it was covered in purples and blues to oranges and red, as if someone was standing at their front entrance. Maybe there is some truth to all the stories of the hauntings in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I know Edith and I definitely saw some sort of presence from our ghost hunting adventures and now, we are believers. Be sure to check out FamilyAbroad’s TikTok to see one of these haunted visitors for yourself!
After spending our day out in Paris’ little city of the resting souls, we can now see why it is the most visited cemetery in the world. Around every turn is another spectacular sculpture created by unknown creative minds, architecture of the day’s past. Every tomb has a tale and it’s worth every minute walking through to learn their special stories. Just another great adventure in our travels abroad!