Interiors and Exteriors
Art and Design
Objects and Antiquities

Tuesday, April 1


Established in 1804, Père Lachaise is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris at 110 acres (44 hectares) and has been a destination on my list for some time because of the ceramic floral decorating grave sites.  I can't say exactly what it is about cemeteries that appeals to me.  Perhaps its the cultural characteristics that can be observed, the mature plant growth, beautiful bushes and trees (Père Lachaise is noteable for being the first garden cemetery), or simply the mass collection of monuments commemorating lives lived.  I like to see how graves are decorated by living relatives and how some are left in ruin due to unexplained circumstances.  

Besides the ceramic decorations, Père Lachaise is also unique for the elaborate mini chapels dedicated to the memory of a well-known person or family.  They are just big enough to accommodate a single mourner within, though some are gated and you can peek in, or some are completely sealed where you then admire an elaborately decorated door.  There is just enough space to squeeze in between the telephone-booth-sized tombs in order to visit the more modest, or equally grand, graves in front of and behind.

It's hard to believe that with over 1 million interments, Père Lachaise still accepts new burials.  Though the rules in order to be buried in a Paris cemetery is rather strict, and a waiting list for Père Lachaise, the cemetery manages to squeeze an increasing number of bodies into a finite and already incredibly crowded space.  A couple, unseemly, practices to free up some space include reopening graves in order to either consolidate multiple existing remains of a single family or add newer members atop the decomposed.  Another practice, adopted in recent times, is to issue a 30-year lease on grave sites.  If they are not renewed by the family, the remains can be removed minimizing the overall deterioration of the cemetery as well as generating more space. Fascinating.

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