Visit PERE LACHAISE CEMETERY - FREE WALKING TOUR
Your guide to visit Père Lachaise – the world’s most famous cemetery. And with 3.5 million visitors every year, it’s also the world’s most visited..
It is thought that 1 million people are buried in Le Père Lachaise, which makes it France’s second largest city in number of residents!
Below, you’ll find an itinerary of 10 stops to visit Père Lachaise like a local. For a more authentic experience, download our Paris audio guide app for a free Père Lachaise walking tour.
Please also note, this place is a real labyrinth, so make sure to follow our map during your visit.
Monday – Friday: 8.00am to 5.30 pm
Saturday: 8.30am to 5.30 pm
Sunday: 9.00am to 5.30 pm
History of the père lachaise
Officially known as the Cemetery of the East, Parisians have always preferred to call this beautiful park Le Père Lachaise.
The name comes from the 17th century confessor to King Louis XIV: Père Francois de la Chaise – who lived in a house where the chapel now sits.
Thanks to the King’s gifts, Père Lachaise considerably expanded his property. It remained in private hands until it was repossessed by the Town of Paris after the revolution.
Napoleon – the architect of Père Lachaise
In the early 1800s, Paris’ population was expanding, and the central Parisian graveyards started suffering from some serious overcrowding.
This pushed up the price of burial space, meaning the poor could no longer afford to be buried. And what remaining space was thoroughly exploited. Bodies were packed so closely together that many graves collapsed!
In 1804, Napoleon I banned inner city burials and created this cemetery on what was then the very outskirts of the city.
Heloise and Abelard
The first stop on our tour sees us pay our respects to Père Lachaise’s first celebrity couple: Héloise and Abélard.
It took a while for Père Lachaise to become the popular burial place it is today. It was far from the city centre, and Roman Catholics refused to be buried in a place that had not been blessed by the church.
To boost interest, a clever marketing strategy was put in place. The remains of prominent dead celebrities were dug up, and reburied here.
The most impressive stunt was the transfer of two 12th century lovers: Héloise and Abélard. The French Romeo and Juliette – and they are actually the oldest bones you’ll see when you visit Père Lachaise.
You can find out all about their tragic love story through our Père Lachaise Audio Guide App.
Jim Morrison - the reason most people visit père lachaise
The man most people come to pay their respects to. The poet, singer and sex symbol of the 60s – James Douglas Morrison.
He lived his life in opposition to society and conventional societal norms. Excessive in his on- stage and off-stage behaviour, politically engaged in anti-Vietnam war protesting, word even has it that he was involved with shamanism.
Jim Morrison died in Paris on 3 July 1971, aged 27. His death, never clearly explained, has raised him to spiritual legend status.
At the time of his death, a bust in stone was made in his memory with ‘smoke and drink freely’ inscribed. It’s been stolen since, but the fans still visit Père Lachaise to celebrate his life!
Funerary symbols in pere lachaise
As you visit Père Lachaise, keep your eyes peeled for certain funerary symbols. For instance, look out for broken columns.
A broken column designates someone who died younger than 20, or had a violent death. Once you notice one, you see them everywhere – it’s quite tragic really.
Also, look out for poppy seeds on railing heads that enclose graves.
Poppies are seen as the ultimate symbol of death and sacrifice. Their symbolism is easily understood as they flourish in the most barren earth. After World War I, great carpets emerged on the battle fields in Northern France - so they also represent our capacity for hope and renewal.
Marcel Marceau – Michael Jackson’s mentor
Ever wondered what inspired Michael Jackson to invent the moonwalk? Well, the answer lies in this cemetery: Marcel Marceau.
Marcel Marceau is the man credited with reviving the art of the mime after World War 2. An international star, he opened schools in Paris and established the famous Marceau Foundation to promote mime in the United States.
And it was here, when Marcel was at the height of his fame, that a 14-year-old Michael Jackson went to see him. It’s said that he was especially inspired by his ability to walk backwards….the famous moonwalk!
The two were friends for nearly 20 years and had planned a concert together - but Jackson was hospitalised for exhaustion during rehearsals and it all fell apart.
Auguste Maquet vs Dumas
Now, I guess we all know who wrote The 3 Musketeers, or The Count of Monte Cristo?
Well, contrary to popular opinion, it may not have been Alexandre Dumas.
The man who rests here, Auguste Maquet, fought many court cases to claim that he wrote all of Dumas’ works whilst they were both alive. He won the right to add his name as co-writer of the three musketeers but that wasn’t enough. Maquet wanted full recognition.
Nowadays, the general consensus is that he was the mason that wrote the first copy and Dumas embellished them with his romantic style. At the end of the day, who knows. It will be a fact that will go with them to their graves. In this case quite literally – look out for the book titles engraved on his headstone.
Frédéric Chopin is one of the most famous composers and pianists to have ever lived. Born in Warsaw in 1810, he fled to Paris aged 20, never to return again. It is something that greatly affected him throughout his life.
He suffered throughout his life from poor health, and had a terrible fear of being buried alive. It is why he requested that his body be opened after his death, and that his heart be buried in a separate place to his body. Although his body lies in the Père Lachaise, his heart is in Warsaw.
Chopin’s sad, melancholic style is the perfect soundtrack for a Père Lachaise visit. Have a listen to his Funeral March to get you in the mood..
By this point you’ll probably be wanting a little rest. The benches in front of the Crematorium are the perfect place for this.
The Crematorium is where bodies are burnt and turned into ashes, for a fee of around 1000€! Constructed in 1887, it was the first of its kind in France, and aroused plenty of suspicion when it was first built. The French weren’t used to seeing human smoke billowing out over a graveyard!
The large dome you’ll see was actually constructed to hide the chimneys from sight! And it’s so imposing that many people thought it was a mosque when first constructed.
Despite the initial reaction, it quickly became a massive success – so much so that the columbarium was built a couple of years later. The columbarium is the covered winged structure that runs in a square around the crematorium. It’s here that urns are kept.
If you’d like, have a walk around the columbarium and see if you can spot any famous names. For instance, Maria Callas, the famous Greek Opera singer. Paul Landowski, the creator of the Christ the Redeemer statue. Or the dancer Isadora Duncan, who died in the most tragic of ways when her scarf got tangled in the wheel of her car.
Wilde’s ghost is perhaps not only one of the most talented, but also one of the most tragic to haunt the Père Lachaise..
Born in Dublin in 1854, he left Ireland aged 24 and straddled his time between Paris and London.
A pioneer of the aesthetic movement, believing in “art for art’s sake”, he was a flamboyant character with provocative ideas and a razor sharp wit. His 1895 play, “The Importance of Being Earnest” was the talk of the London West End when released.
Tragically, this success didn’t last long. A couple of months following the release of “The Importance of Being Earnest”, Wilde was found guilty of being a homosexual. He was sentenced to two years of hard labour for gross indecency after being sued by his lover’s father.
When a bankrupt Wilde was released, he set sail for France to flee his debts. His friends deserted him and, on 30 November 1900, he died penniless from meningitis.
“A rose is a rose is a rose”. One of the most famous quotes of all time, courtesy of the American woman of letters and prolific socialite, Gertrude Stein.
Before you come to Paris, be sure to watch the Woody Allen film, “Midnight in Paris”. She’s a prominent character, where you’ll see her hosting salon for artists and writers in Paris.
People like Picasso (he actually painted the portrait above), Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and many other A list celebs were regulars at that Saturday night Soirée. You can actually find out more about them and their lives in our fascinating tour of Montmartre.
Le Mur Des Fédérés
This is where 147 communards were shot dead by Theirs’ government during a revolution in 1871. It has since become a symbol of the people’s struggle for liberty and their values, and many French communist leaders are buried nearby.
The commune is still a subject of enormous controversy in France, even after almost 150 years.
The Commune was a revolutionary, left wing government that ruled Paris, in the Spring of 1871. The army was already weakened from defeat to Prussia in 1870, and was unable to defend Paris from this popular uprising. The revolutionaries expelled the army, took control of the city, and created their own government.
They ruled Paris for 2 months before the army decided to attack, killing 10 000 people in la “semaine sanglante” – or the bloody week in French. This exact spot is where the last of the revolutionaries were lined up and shot.
The final stop of our Père Lachaise visit is the grave of possibly the most famous French singer of them all - the wonderful Edith Piaf.
Her story epitomises the French way of life: a rags to riches love story, entertainment, trials and tribulations, and the difficulty of escape one's destiny.
The little sparrow, that’s what Piaf means, was born in 1915 in Belleville, a very working-class Parisian neighbourhood not far from Le Père Lachaise.
Despite her professional success, her personal life was a series of tragic events : when she was only 19, she lost her 2 year old daughter, Marcelle - who you can see is buried alongside her.
Later came the loss of her lover Marcel Cerdan, the world heavyweight champion in a plane accident.
During the war, she was falsely accused of being a Nazi sympathiser. And on and on it went for poor Edith…
We hope you enjoy your Père Lachaise visit. Once again, we encourage you to download our app to enjoy our free Père Lachaise walking tour. You’ll find it in the link below!