City Travel – Père Lachaise, Paris
The Delhi Walla in the French capital.
[By Jonas Moses Lustiger and Mayank Austen Soofi]
A labyrinth of cobbled paths and mossy tombs, it is neither a Christian cemetery, nor a Muslim graveyard even though Christians, Muslims and Jews lie buried here. It is not even exclusively French; there are graves of Turkish, Armenian, Arab and Chinese migrants who made Paris their home. More than a cemetery, Père Lachaise seems to be a monument to the secular France.
It witnessed the massacre that culminated the world’s first socialist revolution in 1871 known as Commune de Paris.
Spread over 100 acres, the largest cemetery in Paris also reflects the violence that France went through the 20th century.
Besides having memorials to the casualties of the First World War and the various colonial wars that France fought in Africa and Asia (the kind of memorials seen in every village in this country), there are memorials to the victims of every concentration camp where the French citizens were sent during the Second World War. Commemorative sculptures and graves are dedicated to the French Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
It is not history alone that makes Père Lachaise special. The cemetery has tombs of a large number of people close to the French heart such as Balzac, Moliere, Colette, La Fontaine, Rachel, Sarah Bernhardt, Maurice Thorez and Marcel Proust. The famous foreigners interred here include Maria Callas, Max Ernst, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, the disgraced British playwright on whose grave a sympathetic admirer left a note, saying, “Thank you for existing.”
The tomb of Marcel Proust, the author of the greatest French novel, consist of a black slab of stone. It looks undistinguished from the neighboring graves of people who were neither poets, nor philosophers, and known only to their families and friends. In Père Lachaise, each dead man and woman is an equal citizen of the French republic.
The republic of the dead