Brongniart map, 1813
Besides the temporary grave markers for the common man, woman and child set on a westward-facing slope amidst cypresses, willows, and shrubs and flowers of all shapes, colors and sizes, if one had enough money they could actually purchase a permanent burial site, a concession perpetuite.
This new burial scheme was remarkable for its novelty. Parisian burial grounds were usually laid out in small parish cemeteries, on flat ground, making for easy interment and, presumably maintenance. Nor were most graves permanent and rarely, if ever, memorialized. After a predetermined time allowed for decomposition, most bodies were removed and the bones placed in a nearby charnel house. But the city’s ancient central cemetery, Les Innocents, which had been recycling human remains for centuries eventually became too much for the community to bear – literally bodies were falling into basements and the stench became unbearable for nearby residents.
Although the process of closing the city’s unhygienic and overcrowded church cemeteries had begun during the reign of Louis XVI and accelerated in the early years of the Revolution, church cemeteries, particularly anathema to the new revolutionary ideals after 1789, could no longer be tolerated.
Of the "new" Paris cemeteries available to city residents in the first years of the 19th century, Montmartre was on the site of two older burial grounds in a former quarry, while the cemeteries of Vaugirard, Sainte Catherine, and Clamart were laid out on flat ground in previously-used burial spaces, both easily accessible for the residents in the southwestern and southern portions of the city respectively.
With the exception of Père-Lachaise, none of these cemeteries were by any means “new.” Although formally established in 1825, Montmartre, also known as Le Cimetière du Nord, the Northern Cemetery, was in fact on the site of two older burial grounds in a gypsum quarry and throughout the first twenty or so years of the 19th century all authors refer to it’s existence. Earlier iterations of Vaugirard dated to the late 18th century (and is not the same as the present Vaugirard Cemetery).
Clamart and Sainte-Catherine were next-door neighbors near present-day Boulevard Saint-Marcel, so to speak, burial grounds that also pre-dated the opening of new cemeteries. Clamart was located just about where Square Scipion is located today, at the corner of what is now rue du Fer a Moulin and rue Scipion; Sainte-Catherine was located under what is now Boulevard Saint-Marcel, roughly between rue Fosses de Saint-Marcel and rue Scipion.
But Père-Lachaise would be different.
It was the farthest from the city proper, it lay uphill, and was certainly not readily or easily accessible to city residents. (By contrast, the parish cemetery in the nearby small village of Charonne, which exists today, was still in operation serving the local residents.) The fact that the government even considered such a unique site as the old Jesuit retreat, with its overgrown, sloping paths and vistas of the city to the west and Vincennes to the east showed a refreshing imagination in designing a place for the city’s future dead. Yet what seemed so different about Père-Lachaise apparently made it more, not less attractive.