Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cemetary Père Lachaise, Paris

Cemetaries in Paris

Irrespectively of our religious thoughts, there are the practical matter of where we put our dead. Different cultures and places in the world deal with this necessity differently. Paris, being more than two millennium old, in no exception.

There is something intriguing to everyone about the old cemeteries in Paris. I recently bought a guide to summer walks in Paris and among the suggestions of parks and green spaces there were the cemeteries. There are 14 marked cemeteries within the city limits. I say marked because there are certainly more cemeteries that have been built upon or forgotten. Not forgotten are the Catecombs of Paris, those underground caves carved into the limestone over the centuries to keep the remains of millions of Parisians, but the Catecombs are for another story.

Le Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Late Summer

Last Sunday, after being inspired by my adventure in the Cimètaire de Montparnasse on Friday, I ventured to La Cimetière du Père Lachaise for the sunny afternoon, taking Métro line 6 from Montparnasse to Nation then line 2 to station Philippe Auguste in the 20th. The leaves are starting to turn yellow in many of the trees and families were strolling with babies in carriages along the cobblestone lanes. To me it seemed a dichotomy to enjoy such a pleasant afternoon among thousands of dead. And who were they, the tens of thousands resting here ? Certainly many are or were quite famous and known throughout the world in their time and indeed our own.

Death and Decay

It is disturbing that there are so many magnificent tombs that have fallen into a state of decay, obviously being forgotten and lost by those who once loved the deceased. Someone once built stately monuments, tombs, statues for their loved ones. Obviously those who did so follwed and are gone as well. The generations who followed were more and more removed.

Walking through a grand cemetery such as Père Lachaise makes me think of my own mortality and the certainty of my death, then years later of me being forgotten. Death and eventually being forgotten will happen to everyone after dozens, hundreds or thousands of years. These macabre photos are my interpretation of that eventuality.

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Anonymous Kilroy said...

The Père Lachaise is an incredible place, out of time.
As we were exploring it once, we met an old fellow who was paying a visit to his wife's grave. He told us a number of stories about the Père Lachaise, including one about two trees that grow on a grave and have curiousely intertwinned roots. As the story goes, those two trees grow on the grave of two persons that were deeply in love. Unfortunately for them, one was a priest and the other a nun and their love was a desperate one. They were, however, buried near one another and the trees grew on their graves afterwards.

The cemetary also has a number of very elaborate graves designed to fit the personnality or achievements of their host. The grave of Champollion, for instance, is an obelisk engraved with hieroglyphs.

What I particularly like is the most abandoned areas of the Père Lachaise. You really wonder where you are when you walk in between broken tombstones, rusted railings and trees growing on graves. The statues that can be found there are also very nice, including the numerous pleureuses, that you depict in your post.

Wed Sep 13, 02:53:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Just Me in Paris said...

Hello Kilroy, thank you for visiting and thank you for the wonderful story. Père Lachaise is a wonderful place and I had not visited for nearly two years. The next time will be sooner.

By the way, your site is astounding. Great work ! http://www.offrench.net/photos
I highly recommend it to everyone.

Thu Sep 14, 07:07:00 PM GMT+2  

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