All cities have them; urban sanctuaries that insulate you against the chaos and movement of the surrounding city. For me, in Paris, that place is le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.
The Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in Paris’ 20me arrondissement, is an enormous plot in the middle of Paris. Not only is it the final resting place of the likes of the legendary Oscar Wilde, actress Sarah Bernhardt, composers Bizet and Chopin, artist Max Ernst, playwright Molière, singers Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf, painter Camille Pissarro, and many more. As the most visited cemetery in the world, you would expect Père-Lachaise to be crowded and touristy. Perhaps it is, when you’re there in the summer, but it’s also so vast that you can easily get lost and solitary in the tombs and headstones.
I don’t normally gravitate towards cemeteries, although I do have a fascination with dark tourism. I rarely write about dark tourism (travel to sites of death and destruction), because I don’t particularly think it’s always appropriate to share that experience. However, Père-Lachaise is different.
This cemetery really is a sanctuary in the middle of the city. It’s beautiful. The grounds meander and roll, with cobblestone pathways, draped in a comforting, gentle canopy of greenery. The tombs are majestic, elegant, and classic, opening yet another window into Paris’ past life and lives.
It’s hard to further describe the feeling I get wandering through Père-Lachaise. It’s somewhere I visit every time I’m in Paris, and I often spend a couple hours strolling or sitting on one of the benches. It’s the first place I recommend to people visiting the French capital, and remains my favourite place in the city.