Sat in the 20th arrondissement of Paris is the largest cemetery in the city. It’s famous for its celebrity “guests” but its much more than that. It covers a site of almost 17 hectares and counts 70,000 “concessions” or plots on the site. There are also huge numbers of plaques in lieu of ashes. There are no official guides to the cemetery, but in summer you can find plenty of people just outside who’ll happily take your money for a guided walk around if you wish. Although I speak French, I didn’t speak to anyone during my visit, I simply looked at the maps that are dotted around, and worked out where I wanted to go. Not difficult at all.
It was a cold day when I visited, cold in every sense. It was the day after the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office, and the weather resembled the national mood, dark, overbearing, cold and bleak
A short walk from a metro took me to the front gates, where, just inside, I found the first map and worked out my route.
I knew that he was buried here:
although not why (to be investigated).
And was aware that Oscar Wilde finally laid his head here too:
What I hadn’t realised though, was that Pere Lachaise is also the national cemetery of France, a little similar to Arlington for any Americans reading this.
There are national monuments to air disasters, to the French Jews, deported during WW2 to various camps and this one:
I was very surprised to see this one here. The site where this took place is no more than 10 miles from my house. Its a well known site, one that’s remembered locally every year on Remembrance Day and commemorates the 27 prisoners killed by the Nazis towards the end of the war. Guy Moquet was only a young man but became one of the symbols of French resistance during the war.
Cemeteries aren’t places of joy, and Pere Lachaise, the day after the horrific events of January 7th 2015 was especially sombre, but it was definitely worth the couple of hours I spent there. Its a place of silence and solitude, allowing reflection.