Why would I want to write an article on a cemetery ? Well, the answer is this. In France, cemeteries are a very important part of the life of French people. They are not places where forgotten souls are buried, but in fact celebrated on All Saints Day, as places where people who are remembered and loved and respected are still alive in the hearts of those who visit.
Any cemetery in France is decorated to celebrate the lives of people who have died and if you were to visit one in the first week of November, you would indeed be surprised and awed by the site that greets you.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a fine example of how people are awed by the past. This area of Paris was once a poor area until a rich merchant built his house here in 1430, and little did he know at the time, but history has a habit of changing places, and this building was no exception. It became a hospice for Jesuits, and then in 1803 the City of Paris bought the land and the urban planner at that time decided that this would be an ideal place to build a cemetery, and he was right.
This is an expensive cemetery. People have to pay for their tombs in France, and to be buried in this famous cemetery costs a fortune because you are amongst the rich and famous people.
My reason for writing this review is not to give you so much the history of the place, more to tell you why it stands out as a place to visit. The influence of the people buried at this cemetery on societies from the 1800s to the present day can actually be felt as you take your way through the graves of people that have changed things, people who have contributed to society, and people who will always be remembered. I am actually in awe when I go to this place. I feel as if I am with all these famous people. I think of the music of Chopin, the singing voice of Edith Piaf, (whose grave is a simple but rather respectful one) the writing of Oscar Wilde. For me, to sit in contemplation in such an inspired place is really a wonderful experience.
There lies within the boundaries of this cemetery little pieces of human history that all join together and make a picture of lives that have left us, but not just that, it also shows us how much has changed over the years, in the way that people think and express themselves. In one space in the cemetery, there is the grave of Jim Morrison, and young people sit here in contemplation smoking a joint or two and feeling that they are indeed visiting this great character from our time.
For me to sit in contemplation of Oscar Wilde, I am humbled to think that I am so close to a man who was a genius, albeit an arrogant one, but I have read his words, read his quotations and this man was a part of my life and how I think, and the words of his that I read became part of who I am. Oscar Wildes winged messenger is impressive and very beautiful.
To some, it may sound a sinister kind of place to visit, but for me, this is a place of great people who conjure up images of a time that is past, but also of a time that is happening right here and now. Jim Morrisons grave is covered in graffiti which some see as pointless although when you read the messages, these are not messages of destruction, but little messages to Jim Morrison from people who cared and who are touched by that necessity to leave some little token of their respect, albeit in graffiti form.
Walking through the many hectares of land which make up this cemetery, you cannot help but be awed by the artwork, the beauty, and even in some instances the humbleness of the gravestones. There is just so much to see. This is the burial place of so many people that made a difference to history. The Federalists Walls which are a series of monuments to people who died in the Holocaust make you stand in quiet contemplation and respect, make you take notice of the terrible atrocities that have happened within short term history, and the grave of great lovers Abailard and Heloise make you think of epic lovestories that pass the test of time.
In the centre of one of Europes most beautiful cities within shouting distance of the Bastille, this place is visited by thousands of tourists every year, and to me is a link between now and then, a place where past meets up with present and reminds each individual that visits it that life is but a passing phase, but that our actions and our behaviour towards mankind are the traces that each human being leaves behind for the next one to appreciate.
Here in the lushness of gardens and statues, you can be lost for a while in remembrance and for human beings sometimes that is a very special place to be for without remembrance what does mankind stand for ? Where is its importance ? This is a place for respect, thought, and tranquility in the heart of a huge city that is every moving and ever increasing. This is a port of calm in an otherwise hectic stay for me, and I hope you will find it that special too.
Thank you for reading.
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