Beau Monde of the Dead

Paris' cool underground

Words: Lee Tulloch, Photography: Tony Amos
Jim Morrison
Rossini
Marcel Proust
Sarah Bernhardt
Oscar Wilde
Aux Morts
Edith Piaf
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Jim Morrison,

lead singer of The Doors, was buried in an unmarked grave at Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery in 1971. He was moved to a proper resting place with a monument shortly after. And then someone ran off with his head. A perfect tale for Bastille Day we think.

We are, quite frankly, obsessed with cemeteries. While other travellers may head for the best bar in a destination, we always check out the local City of the Dead. Maybe it’s just the Goth in us, but we think you can find out a lot about a place through the way it buries its dearly (and not so) departed. Cemeteries are picturesque, tranquil and with free admission. (You may have to dish out a few sous for a map.)

We draw the line at attending stranger’s funerals, like Harold and Maude, though.

In 1984 we first visited Père Lachaise in Paris. Because of the calibre of its residents – many VIP dead are buried here – it’s the cemetery lover’s cemetery. A city in itself, it stretches over 44 hectares in the 20th arrondissement, with mausoleums lined up like narrow houses along the well-maintained streets.

With an estimated 2-3 million human remains in residence, it’s prime Parisian real estate. There’s great caché in being bedded down with Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Frédéric Chopin, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust and Max Ernst. (What a pyjama party you’d have!)

Anecdotally, Jim Morrison’s grave is still the most visited. In 1984 Mr Amos took this photograph of the grave, four years before vandals stole the 280 lb bust by Czech sculptor Mladen Mikulin. The guilty parties were exposed in this document. Constant vandalism still is a problem, more than forty years after Morrison’s death. That’s what happens When You’re Strange.

We’re also a little nostalgic for Père Lachaise because Mr Amos’s photographs from this visit appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Australia in 1984, marking his first published work.

If you’re an Oscar Wilde fan you might like to stay at L’Hotel where he died before taking the long pilgrimage to the Gambetta Metro station, the nearest stop to Oscar’s grandiose tomb. Make sure you get a map at the gate first.

Pere Lachaise, 16, rue du Repos, 75020, Paris. Opening Hours:

  • Mid-March through early November: 7:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Mon.-Friday; 8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Saturday; 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Sunday and bank holidays.
  • Mid-November through early March: 8:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Friday; 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday; 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday and bank holidays.

 


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