I've always liked cemetaries. And not just because I was the sort of kid who desperately wanted to have been born into the Addams Family.
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Cemetaries are very much more than resting places for the dead and it's no contradiction when I say that all human life is revealed in tbe best of them. Because architecture, anthropology and aspects of social history abound and you can learn an enormous amount about life from the rituals of the dead.
Pere Lachaise Cemetary in Paris is the ultimate necropolis in my opinion and, since Paris is one of the most sublime cities of Europe and, being handily located a short hop across the Channel from home, I try to drop by at least once a year.
Located on the eastern side of the city, the "guest list" of inhabitants alone is impressive. Edith Piaf, darling Oscar Wilde, divine Jim Morrison (who I so desperately wanted to invite home to tea when I was young and infatuated with him) Sarah Bernhardt (a woman after my own heart since she too limped around theatrically) and Marcel Proust are just a few of the luminaries entombed at Pere Lachaise.
But there is more, much more, that makes Pere Lachaise such an extraordinary and compelling place to visit. The site itself is enormous and divided into divisions and avenues. As is often the case in the heart of a busy city, the cemetary is a quiet world of its own. Although Pere Lachaise has a twilight-zone sense of the unworldly helped by its gothic accessories, brooding trees and gently collapsing baroque sarcophogii.
Amongst the rich and famous lie the remains of ordinary Parisians and, in one particularly poignant area are tributes to those who lost their lives in the Nazi concentration camps.
Despite being surrounded by death, Pere Lachaise isn't a depressing experience. More a thoughtful, always beautiful and endlessly fascinating tableau of Parisian life and death.
Amazingly, all this comes absolutely FREE and Pere Lachaise is easy to get to on the metro - Gambetta, Pere Lachaise or Alexandre-Dumas stations are all within spitting distance. Allow at least an afternoon to tour the place properly and wear something sensible on the feet. To get the best out of your visit buy the modestly priced map available at all the entrances. And still be prepared to get lost!
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