Père-Lachaise Cemetery

A Brief History

Paris France

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Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

In its early years Père Lachaise" was a poor district, with many outlaws, winding streets and shady avenues. It is located on the hill of Champ 'Evêque", where a wealthy merchant first built his home in 1430. In the 17th century the Jésuits, acquired the home and converted it into a hospice for members of their order.

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Father François de La Chaise d'Aix - known as 'Le Père La Chaise' was Louis XIV's confessor. Louis XIV’s had visited the area in 1652, and it was thereafter called Mont-Louis. By the time Le Père La Chaise died in 1709, the property had been considerably expanded due to royal gifts. Count La Chaise, head of the king's bodyguard, also had a place on Mont-Louis, which was known for its opulent parties with guests who wanted to get to know the king's confessor better; in order to meet the king.

In 1763 the Jesuits were evicted and the property was purchased by the Baron family in 1771. The property was destroyed in the Revolution and the Empire which followed. The 17 acres became the property of the Ville de Paris. The city was looking for new cemetery locations and Brongniart the architect got the Pére-Lachaise job, which was ready for its opening on 21. May. The Paris government had decided to clear out the cemeteries located near churches in the city and Pere Lachaise was chosen for those formerly buried in the 5th, 7th and 8th arrondissements.

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New cemeteries were needed as an alternative to the horrendous burial conditions in the city. The fear of disease-causing "miasmas" from rotting corpses lead to designating new cemeteries on the outskirts of Paris, in the fashion of the Greeks and Romans. These included Pere Lachaise . The fear of the stench from the mass graves of Saints Innocents in Paris lead to the removal of all human remains and was performed on winter nights over a two year period, from 1785-1787. The removed bones were placed in the Catacombs, named after the Roman catacombs. The Paris Catacombs were abandoned quarries once populated by thieves and the homeless. The skeletal remains were sorted and stacked neatly by type, modeled after the example set by Rome. The transfer of other urban cemeteries to the Catacombs continued until the late 1870s. The Catacombs is the resting-place for the remains of over six million Parisians. The Catacombs became a popular novelty for the old nobility who held dinner parties and picnics underground in the Paris Catacombs.

The Paris sewer system was also overwhelmed by the growth of the city contributing to the horrendous sanitary and public health problems. By 1663, one fourth of the ten kilometers of Paris sewers were closed. These sewers were poorly designed and had poorly kept records of their locations--hid their contents, were difficult to clean and clogged easily, since water flowed only when it rained. Sewer construction up to the 1820s consisted of hewn stones and rectangular bases, causing silt to build up quickly. Some citizens argued, "Perhaps Paris was not ready for the responsibility of maintaining covered sewers" and many felt that no sewers would be less dangerous to the public health than badly maintained ones. There was much criticism of Parisian egotism and the Government was critically compared to the "civic patriotism" of the Ancient Romans, who competently maintained their sewers and aqueducts. 1

Popular riots in 1830 and 1848 were directed against the rich, the doctors and the government. Disease became tied to revolution and therefore, a well maintained sewer, it was believed, would combat both disease and revolution. Between 1832-34, fourteen kilometers of new sewers were built. The new system was constructed with mortar and millstones and had oval floors to make flushing easier. By 1840, the Paris sewer system had been expanded to 96 km. The Paris sewers opened for public tours during the World Exposition of 1867. These popular tours took place in luxury sluice carts and boats piloted by white-clad sewer men. Visitors wore their fine clothes for the tour of the immaculate sewers. These modern, technological structures, no longer a source of disgust and fear, represented government as a beacon of competence, order and reason. Sewer tours continue to this day. In a similar fashion the new cemeteries of Paris affirmed a new vision of order, reason and respect for the deceased, a significant departure from the previous perspective of the corps as garbage. 1

Philippe Auguste established the royal gallows of Montfaucon north of Paris, serving not only as the public execution site but also the town dump. Thousands of people were hung at Montifaucaon. Many that died while being tortured were left hanging from the gallows and trees to rot until their bones fell. Their remains would then dumped into a pit along with the household waste, excrement and city rubble. This practice, based on the Christian denial of burial to criminals, created a smell that emanated down to Paris and was thought to serve as a subtle deterrent to crime. This practice continued well into the 18th Century. Parent-Duchatelet, the early 19th century hygienist, referred to Montfaucon as the "Epicenter of Stench." Although the execution of criminals at Montfaucon stopped in the 18th century, bodies continued to be dumped with the garbage, including the bodies of the people beheaded during the Revolution. After the revolution, the denial of a Christian burial to criminals ceased. 1

Pere Lachaise opened as a Cemetery in 1804 and became a very successful piece of land speculation. Nicolas Frochot, the urban planner who developed the cemetery, persuaded the civil authorities to rebury Molière, La Fontaine, Abélard and Héloïse in his new cemetery. Quickly Père-Lachaise became the ultimate symbol for the rich and famous as well as an affirmation of the role of government. Frochot, even sold a plot to the original owner for considerably more money than the price he had paid for the entire site. Even today, the fees are extremely high. Some of the most celebrated dead have unremarkable tombs while those whose fame died with them have the most expressive monuments.

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Of the twenty cemeteries in Paris, Père-Lachaise is the most famous, it now has over 70,000 plots and receives some two million visitors a year from all over the world. With 44 hectares and 5,300 trees, Père-Lachaise is also the largest park in Paris.

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Beyond its primary function, this famous Romantic-inspired necropolis, designed by Brongniart, has become an open-air museum and  pantheon garden.

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At first, the new cemetery was named Cemetery de l'Est. The former owner of the property, James Baron, was buried in it in 1822 as well as the architect of it, Brongniart. The cemetery was enlarged five times until 1850. From the beginning the cemetery has been multi-denominational. Students from polytechnical schools built the walls to transform the cemetery into a fortress during the battles of 1814. However, the Russians captured it on the third assault. During the battles of the Commune in 1871, fallen 'Federals' were buried here; including those executed in the cemetery itself and in the battles in the Rue de la Roquette and the Place Voltaire. A total of 1,018 were killed in the repression. The oldest identifiable bones in the cemetery belong to Abailard, who died in 1141 and Héloise who died 23 years later in 1164, also at the age of 63. The lovers' remains had an incredible journey, before being lodged in Père-Lachaise in November 1817. Henri III's widow, Louise de Lorraine who died in 1601, was moved here on the orders of Napoléon in 1806. Louis XVIII in contrast, was moved with great pomp from Père-Lachaise to Saint-Denis in 1817. After the opening of the cemetery in 1804, the number of the famous names got very long and reads like 200 years' of the Who's Who of France.

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The crematorium was built in 1889. It is a massive factory like structure, with several domed chimneys.

Along the 'Federalist's Wall are a series of monuments dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. Within this row is one monument with the inscription: 'A la mémoire de tous les Espagnols mort pour la liberté 1939 - 1945' and '10,000 dead and deported, 25,000 killed with the Resistance.'

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Address 16, rue du Repos 75020 Tél. : +331.43.70.70.33

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PERE-LACHAISE, GAMBETTA

 

Opening Hours

 

6 November - 15 March: Monday - Friday 8 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Saturday 8.30 a.m. to

5.30 p.m., Sundays and public holidays 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. 16 March - 5 November:

Monday to Friday 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturday 8.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., Sundays and public

holidays 9 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Last admission fifteen minutes before closing time.

 

1. Krupa, Frederique.  Paris: Urban Sanitation Before the 20th Century

Bibliography

Krupa, Frederique. (1991).   Paris: Urban Sanitation Before the 20th Century [On-line].   Available: http://www.op.net/~uarts/krupa/alltextparis.html

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