Necrography of Paris: An Introduction

Necrography of Paris

There are a multitude of reasons for visiting Paris: the museums, the food, the cultural significance, but one of the primary reasons I propose you visit Paris is the necrography. The cemeteries of Paris are their own set of museums of the rich, famous and infamous. From Napoleon at Les Invalides, to Victor Hugo at The Pantheon, to Edgar Degas at Montmartre, to the unknown multitudes in the catacombs, but first A few words on Edith Piaf, Moliere, Jim Morrison, and the many other at Paris’s largest cemetery Pere Lachaise which I lived a few blocks from and wandered many times.

Pere Lachaise the oldest of the current cemeteries of Paris opened in 1804 under the direction of Napoleon. Later the same week Napoleon crowned himself emperor. At the time Paris was in dire need of a new cemetery’s with skeletons protruding from churchyard grounds. The old Cimetiere des Innocents was overloaded with corpses breaking through the walls of an adjacent apartment house spilling into the basement. The scandal that resulted, as well as the odor, led to laws that forbid the burials in the city’s cemeteries and churchyards. In 1786 a quarry south of Paris had been opened for the overflow of bones.

At the start people did not flock to the new cemetery. In an effort to give the cemetery more distinction they performed reburials of two noted authors Moliere and La Fontaine. Soon Pere Lachaise was considered the most prestigious as other cemeteries were built. To this day if you can afford the heavy price it is the preferred burial plot in Paris. Its 118 acres of famous men and women from France and the world can be explored in a multitude of fashions with several different entrances, my preferred entrance can be accessed from the Rue de la Roquette which turns into Avenue Principale. All of the roads within the grand cemetery are named and posted like a small city of the dead all their own. Picking up a free map at the entrance or downloading it is highly recommended. (

Following Avenue Principale leads you to some renown grave sites the first of which is Colette. Sidonie Gabriella Colette (b. January 28, 1873, Saint-Sauveur; d. August 3, 1954, Paris). The author of Gigi and Claudine at School among others. It wasn’t until 1904 that she was allowed to use her own name on her stories. She was never much into conventional morality. After separating from her first husband she toured the country working as a mime, approvingly baring her breasts when the script required it. She would go on to have two further marriages. She wrote, “It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

Map of Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Within this section are many other notable figures among them Georges Eugene Haussmann (1809-1891) a prefect who modernized and widened the streets of Paris. Interestingly he wished to do away with all cemeteries in Paris and instead have a huge (5,000 acre) cemetery 14 miles outside Paris and employ funeral trains to transport the coffins and mourners. The people of Paris resisted this idea. Eventually you will pass Camille Pissaro, Frederic Chopin and many others before arriving at one of the most visited and which a cult following of teens and early twenties make a vigil to nearly everyday.

James Douglas Morrison (b. December 8, 1943, Melbourne, Florida; d. July 3, 1971, Paris). Coming from a patriotic military family and with an IQ of 149 he dallied as a gifted philosophy student, poet, heavy drinker before finding the medium for which he would become infamous lead singer of the rock group The Doors. His fame soared between 1967 to 1970, yet he spent his final months in Paris while attempting to become a serious poet. His official death was a heart attack in his bathtub, but conjecture started immediately. There was no autopsy and he was secretly buried at Pere Lachaise. Of course Morrison had fantasized about faking his death and starting a new life under the name “Mr. Mojo Risin.” One of his more famous lyrics,

“ This is the end / Beautiful friend / This is the end / My only friend, the end. / Of our elaborate plans, the end / Of everything that stands, the end / No safety or surprise, the end / I’ll never look into your eyes…again”

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