Despite the sadness they hold, cemeteries can be beautiful places. Serene and peaceful, they can lend themselves to quiet reflection. Even moments of clarity, when life itself becomes too cluttered and noisy with the business of living.
With that, I'm sharing some pics I took last year of the lovely Cimitière du Père-Lachaise, or simply, Père Lachaise.
It says a lot about Paris that something as macabre and mundane as a cemetery can be a famous tourist attraction. But Père Lachaise, of course, is no ordinary necropolis.
Built on a hillside, Père Lachaise aka Cimitière l'Est (East Cemetery) is Paris' largest and is supposedly the most-visited cemetery in the whole world.
Its Wiki entry states that the cemetery owes its name to Louis XIV's confessor, Père Francois de la Chaise. At the time of its opening in 1804, Père Lachaise was considered too far from the city proper and thus had few interments.
Moreover, Parisian Catholics refused to bury their dead in a place that had not been blessed by the Church. Thus, in its first year, Père Lachaise held a total of only thirteen graves.
Something had to be done to attract more people to bury their dead in Père Lachaise. And proving that there is nothing like star power even in the afterlife, the cemetery's administrators re-interred the remains of La Fontaine and Molière in Père Lachaise, amid great fanfare.
Over time and with more French notables among its roster, Père Lachaise's strategy worked, and more and more people clamored to be buried among its celebrities.
As proof of its growing popularity, within a few years, the number of Père Lachaise's residents grew, from a few dozen permanent graves to over 33,000 in 1830.
Such was the population boom that the cemetery grounds required expansion five times from 1824 to 1850.
Père Lachaise remains an operational cemetery to this day and is still accepting new burials.
As you can see from these pictures, the graves at Père Lachaise range from humble headstones to grand, massive monuments.
People may be buried in any of Paris' cemeteries as long as they lived in the capital or they died there. But Père Lachaise now boasts of a waiting list, as very few plots are available due to its historical significance and popularity.
There are also mini-chapels dedicated to both the well-known and the unknown.
Many tombs in Père Lachaise are like this "telephone booth" sized structure; just big enough for a person to enter and say prayers and leave offerings for the dead.
Just like some of our local cemeteries, many graves in Père Lachaise contain the remains of multiple family members. This is done to save space in order to accommodate new "residents."
In recent times, Père Lachaise has adopted leases for its gravesites. If a family does not renew the lease, the plot is emptied of its contents and a new grave is prepared for a new inhabitant.
Plots can be bought in perpetuity, with 50, 30, and 10 year lease options. And unlike most traditional Filipino cemeteries, the coffins in Père Lachaise's graves and mausoleums are usually located below ground.
By official count, at least one million people have been laid to rest at Père Lachaise. If we add the cremated remains at the Aux Morts ossuary, the total number of residents in Père Lachaise lies in excess of 2-3 million.
Not bad for a necropolis that only started out with thirteen graves.
Le plus grand faible l'hommes, c'est l'amour qu'ils ont de la vie.
Man's greatest weakness is his love for life.
Père Lachaise text info courtesy of Wiki.