Postcard from Paris: Old Communards in D76 Père-Lachaise

This one is a bit of a puzzle. A number of sources mention three of the graves represented here: Prudent-Villers (far left), medallion of the Mortiers next to Prudent and Jean-Baptiste Clement (far right) but not the name of the grave with the bust of a man. And to make matters worse, the bust in the postcard is presently missing.

However, there is a possible answer to this tiny mystery. In Moiroux's 1908 guide to the cemetery he mentions the grave of French painter and former communard Louis-Ernest Pichio (d. 1898) as being near this very location.

Pichio, also known as "Picq", was perhaps most famous for his painting of the summary execution of 146 communards at this very spot on May 28, 1871.

Postcard from Paris: Avenue Principale in D4 Père-Lachaise

I have a number of vintage postcards of various views of Avenue Principale  in my collection but wanted to share this one since it shows the Avenue before the center portion was dug out.

When the cemetery was first opened in 1804 this portion was quickly filled with graves, all of which are now long gone, either lost or removed to the ossuary. It is quite possible that the three pieces of stone or marble in the near center portion of the grass might be old headstones.

Also you get an idea of what the original view of the top of the hill -- where the chapel now sits -- from the main gate was like. Today the view is obstructed by trees and overgrowth above the Monument aux morts sculpture in the center of the photo frame.

C. P. Arnaud's Map of 1816

Marie Beleyme's latest article on her blog focusing on the early history of Père-Lachaise Cemetery examines C. P. Arnaud's lovely 1816 map of the earliest burials. She's created a wonderful interactive feature using Arnaud's map that provides popup photos of each gravesite.

You can learn more right here (and work on your French at the same time) - or copy and paste the link:

Take a tour of the ghostly Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale in the Bois de Vincennes

Join Adams Roberts of Invisible Paris blog as he leads a tour of the exotic Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale in the Bois de Vincennes:

"As part of the worldwide Obscura Day events on Saturday May 6 I will be hosting a tour of the ghostly Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale in the Bois de Vincennes. The Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale was originally the site of an experimental nursery that searched for ways to improve the cultivation of tropical plants and trees that would then be sent out for planting across the empire. The hothouses in the gardens were filled with exotic trees including coffee, cocoa, banana, and vanilla, and attempts were also made to grow these plants outside on site."

 To read more about the gardens or for information about the tour and to make a reservation visit his blog.

The 2017 edition of my Père-Lachaise Guide is now available

The 2017 edition of my Guide to the Art in Père-Lachaise is now available.

You can find it right here.

If you have an older edition I'll send you the new edition free of charge -- just tear off the cover and send it to:

Paris Cemeteries
PO Box 150044
Grand Rapids, Michigan

 Be sure to include your mailing address, si vous plait! Oh, and the map I created to go along with the guide has also been updated and you can find it online right here.

Le Declin lost and found

Sculpted by Clément Leopold Steiner, and once located in what was called Square Père-Lachaise, now Square Samuel de Champlain, overlooking Avenue Gambetta, this touching, and somewhat melancholic statue was removed many years ago. 

The good news is that Adam Roberts of the Invisible Paris blog has tracked down the story behind the statue and what became of it.

 Located not far from where Paul Moreau-Vauthier's Memorial to the Victims of Revolution now stands.

Paris Morgue

Below is an illustration c. 1845 of the famous (certainly notorious) Paris morgue. Once located near Notre Dame on the Isle de la Cite, the morgue opened in 1860 as a place where friends and families could come and identify the bodies of their loved ones. After it expanded in 1864 into a larger building it quickly became quite the tourist attraction by the end of the 19th century.

Want to learn more about the morgue or to read a contemporary account (published in the Harvard Crimson in 1885?

View from Mont-Louis

Before it became Père-Lachaise the cemetery was called Mont-Louis, for a long time a retreat for Jesuits.

Here's a print dated c. 1750 showing a very unique view of Paris from the top of the eastern hills. The house in the left of the photo is about where the chapel is today; the large cluster of trees that dominate the photo corresponds roughly to division 53. (Thanks Marie for forwarding the link1)

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the oldest burial ground in Paris?
That’s a tricky question since people have been buried in what is now Paris since prehistoric times. The largest, and most famous of all burial grounds, was the medieval Cimetière des Saints Innocents, right in the heart of the city, where Les Halles is today. It was closed in the late 18th century and the bones stored in the nearby charnel house were removed to what is now the Paris Catacombs.

Is it possible to be buried in a Paris cemetery if you're not French?
Marie B., one of the founders of the Friends of Pere-Lachaise says "Unfortunately, the rules to be buried in a Paris cemetery are rather strict: people may be buried in one of these cemeteries if (and only if) they die in the French capital city or if they lived there. Being buried in Pere-Lachaise is even more difficult nowadays as there is a waiting list: very few plots are available. Also, the scattering of ashes in the Garden of Remembrance is for dead Parisians only." For more information regarding Pere-Lachaise burials write to:

8, boulevard de Ménilmontant
75020 Paris

Why are there no cemeteries in the first 11 arrondissements?
These arrondissements used to be scattered with many small churchyards which disappeared at the end of the 18th century as they had become overcrowded and thus deemed unsanitary. Burial inside the city then became illegal (with a few exceptions). The remaining 9 arrondissements were not part of Paris until 1860.

What became of the bodies when the city cemeteries closed?
They were removed to the Catacombes during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and can be visited today.

What are the burial practices in Paris cemeteries?
Like anywhere else in France, people are buried in coffins which are placed in family or individual graves. Plots can be bought in perpetuity, for 50, 30 or 10 years, the latter being the least expensive option. Even in the case of mausoleums and chapels, coffins are most of the time below ground. As in the rest of the world, cremation is more and more popular; people can either keep the urn at home, scatter the ashes or buy a niche in a columbarium.

What happens to all the remains from the abandoned gravesites?
Abandoned remains are boxed, tagged and moved to ossuary in Père-Lachaise cemetery (located behind the Monument aux Morts).

How does the grave recycling process work?
If a grave has not been tended in a while, it is declared abandoned. The Conservation puts a tag on the grave and tries to contact the family but if they can’t reach them (which is often the case after a hundred years), they just take over the plot, clean it and resell it. This procedure usually takes between 2 and 4 years.

Are burials still stacked one on top of the other?
Yes. Most family plots being no more than 2 or 3 square meters, coffins have to be put one on top of the other. Shelves are usually fitted out to accommodate them.

How accurate are the existing guide maps?
The official maps are generally useful and provide practical information as well as locations of the most notable burials in each cemetery. In regards to Père-Lachaise, there are usually one or two commercial guide maps available, as well as reasonably good basic maps in several guidebooks (such as the American tour guide Rick Steves). Unofficial maps are usually available for sale at the news kiosk next to the Père-Lachaise metro as well.

Can anyone have access to burial records?
No. Access to records is permitted only to family. And you have to be able to prove your connection to the first owner of the plot!

However, if you know the name of deceased the cemetery office can provide you with the exact location, even if you're not family.

What are the caveaux provisoires scattered around the cemetery used for?
The various caveaux provisoires found throughout Père-Lachaise and in other cemeteries as well are used by local undertakers for provisional interments until grave is ready.

Can anyone be buried in the older crypts or chapels?
No. Only people related to the first owner of the plot can be buried in it. Occasionally, friends of the family can also be buried with them.

Are photographs permitted in the cemeteries?
Since graves are considered private property, it is "generally" forbidden to take pictures of them. And yet photographs are widely tolerated in Père-Lachaise, Montmartre and Montparnasse.

Is it expensive to be buried in Paris cemeteries?
It is fairly expensive but the price is the same in all Parisian cemeteries. The most expensive option is buying a plot in perpetuity: more than 16,000€ for two square meters, about the size of an average gravesite. If you only buy a plot for ten years (the minimum allowed), it will cost you about 900€ for two square meters. To this must be added the cost of the opening the grave, the monument, etc. (Prices accurate as of 2015.)

I see the words ci-git and dite quite a lot on headstones. What do they mean?
Ci-git is a shortened version of an Old French phrase meaning "here lies" or "here rests", while dite simply means "known as" or also called", and usually refers to someone who was known by a particular nickname while alive.

I would like information on someone who was cremated at Père-Lachaise. Who do I contact?
Only family members can get copies of the cremation registry. For information regarding burials and cremation contact the conservation office.

Cemetery Guide Maps

Maps are usually available at the conservation office of most of the larger cemeteries in Paris. These are not typically the best guides, particularly for a cemetery as large as Père-Lachaise.

In fact, there are "non-official" maps available for purchase at vendors just outside the entrances to Père-Lachaise. The best map is probably the Editions Métropolitain map, which is often for sale at the entrance just across from the Père-Lachaise Metro stop.

With the exception of the three official guide maps in pdf format, which will download the map directly to your computer, the following maps open in a separate window; simply right-click or control-click on the image: has a wonderful interactive map feature.

Two puzzles solved!

Thanks to Marie Beleyme, we now have answers to our two sculpture puzzles.

The large relief, dated 1829, in D39 is the grave of Cappon/Capron/Carron, the spelling is unclear at this point.

(all photos from Pierre-Yves Beaudoin, wikimedia)

In D6 the eroded stone with the relief of an eagle on both sides is in fact part of the original monument to the Memorial to the Victims of June, which is located close by. As you can see from the monument itself it, too, has the same eagle relief and you can now make out the words liberte ordre public.

The puzzle and its answer:

Then and Now: Gareau in division 10 of Père-Lachaise Cemetery

Pierre Gareau (1766–1815). French merchant. Gareau’s was the first statue erected in Père-Lachaise and is one of the few of the earliest monuments still standing in the cemetery. La Douleur is quite possibly a representation of his widow. Sculptor: François-Dominique Milhomme (1). In 1832:

In 1840: