Archive for the ‘monuments’ Category


Paris’ celebrated Père Lachaise cemetery is the resting place of many world-famous and infamous as well as an outdoor art gallery. This oasis of tranquility and greenery sees one million visitors a year.

The hill, on which the cemetery is established, originally served as a site for the rest and convalescence of Jesuit priests. It was named after the confessor of King Louis XIV, Père de la Chaise.





The Holy Innocents Cemetery

The centrally situated Holy Innocents’ Cemetery, where Parisians buried their dead, was used from the Middle Ages until the late 18th century. It was closed in 1785 when Parisians could no longer bear the repugnant stench emanating from the graves. Serious overcrowding pushed up the price of burial space, and bodies were packed so closely together that many graves collapsed through the cellar walls of surrounding houses. Over the course of six months, day and night, 4,183 bone transports were organized. The transfers were accompanied by a full religious ceremony, complete with chanting Catholic priests. The remains of over six million Parisians were laid to rest in the city’s elaborate catacomb system.



The bones from the Cemetery of Innocents were stored underground. The Catacombes, where you can see them, are part of the regular tourist itinerary


The 1789 revolution disrupted the project of new burial places, which was later carried on under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, who created the Père Lachaise cemetery in 1804. The idea of a long trek to the city outskirts was not well received as Parisians were used to paying homage to their loved ones in the city center.


The Père Lachaise cemetery had a slow beginning


To boost interest, the authorities created a brilliant marketing scheme. The remains of prominent dead celebrities were dug up, and reburied in Père Lachaise, starting with the bones of the 12th century iconic lovers, Héloise and Abélard, followed by other serious celebrities such as the playwright Molière, and writer Jean de La Fontaine. People started buying up plots as it became the height of fashion to spend the eternity amidst the crème de la crème of Parisian society. Today the cemetery is one of the most exclusive places to be buried. To qualify, you must have been born in Paris, lived in Paris, died in Paris, or have an existing family plot.

Some one million people are buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery. It is the largest green space in Paris with over four thousand trees and is home to the most varied species of birds in the city.


The Crematorium

Père Lachaise houses a neo-byzantine style crematorium, the first in France. The first cremation in 1889 was quite controversial. While the Protestant faith allowed cremation as of 1888, the Catholic Church did not support the concept until 1966.


Funeral Sculpture

The cemetery is an open-air museum of funeral sculpture best represented by Albert Bartholomé’s stunning Monument for the Dead inaugurated in 1899.




The Monument for the Dead (Monument aux Morts)


Along with the solemn, the pious, and the serious, there are original and sometimes bizarre creations celebrating the dead.



One who doesn’t seem to like his final resting place, it’s Georges Rodenbach, a 19th-century Belgian novelist. We see him extracting himself from his grave.



Another unusual grave belongs to journalist Victor Noir assassinated in 1870. The sculptor froze him in time as he fell in the street after the shooting. The sculpture brought him post-mortem glory as Père Lachaise’s fetish of fertility.



Visitors bring tributes to the dead. They leave potatoes on the tomb of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813), an agronomist, best remembered for promoting  the potato as a food source for humans


The Communard’s Wall (Mur des Fédérés)

The Père Lachaise cemetery was not always a haven of peace. During the Commune of Paris, the place saw hand-to-hand combat among the graves, where the Communards took their last stand. At the end of the “Bloody Week”, on May 28, 1871, one hundred and forty-seven Communards were taken prisoner and were shot against the east wall of the cemetery. Their bodies, and thousands more taken from the streets of Paris, were buried in a mass grave. Every May 28, for 150 years, a ceremony takes place by the wall as workers endeavor to remember the tragic event.




A ceremony by the Communard’s Wall marking the 150-year anniversary of the Paris Commune in 2021


Related posts:

The Dead of Paris

The Bloodbath of the Paris Commune


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eiffel story

A postcard stamped with the words Sommet de la Tour Eiffel was the proof that the sender had made it to the top

The Eiffel Tower, the unmistakable symbol of Paris, is 128 years old and, with six million paying visitors a year, it is the most profitable monument in the city. Like all stories, the story of the Eiffel Tower is not without controversy. In the beginning, the odds were against this “odious pillar of bolted metal” as in here:
[…]Imagine for a moment a vertiginously ridiculous tower, as well as a gigantic black factory chimney, overlooking Paris, crushing with its barbaric mass the Notre Dame , the Sainte Chapelle, the Saint-Jacques Tower, the Louvre, the dome of the Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all our monuments humiliated, all our architectures dwarfed, which will disappear in this astounding dream. And for twenty years we shall see spreading over the whole city, still vibrating with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see the odious shadow of the odious pillar of bolted metal spreading like an inkblot.[…]

Thus protested, in a petition published in 1887, the top painters, sculptors, music composers, writers, and other lights of the French cultural elite. Boy, were they wrong! For a start, the tower outlived the twenty years of its proposed duration thanks to its adaptability. It was used for scientific experiments (radio signals from the tower to the Panthéon in 1898), it served as a military radio station in 1903, it facilitated the first public radio program in 1925, and, finally, it adapted to the television signal. As for the ugliness, the 300 petition signatories could not have been more mistaken. What other architectural object in Paris had been inspiring more artistic creativity in painting, poetry, and music? Besides, the petition came too late as the tower had already been under construction for a month. At the time, the project had no other purpose than to showcase the French technical and engineering ability at the 1899 World Fair.



The projected site of the 1899 Paris Universal Exposition on the Champ de Mars


The 1000-foot Tower envisaged for the Philadelphia Universal Exhibition, its height compared to that of the main monuments of the world

The idea of a one-thousand-feet tower came from the United States, where such a project was envisioned for the Philadelphia World Exposition and rejected as impossible to realize. It is well-known, at least among the French, that “l’impossible n’est pas français.” A competition was launched for a tower with a square base of 25 meters and the height of 300 meters (approx. one thousand feet). The project went to the firm of Gustave Eiffel, whose two engineers, Émile Nouguier and Maurice Kœchlin, were at the origin of the design.



The first sketch of the tower by Maurice Kœchlin

The construction began on January 28, 1887. Standing 984 feet high upon completion on March 15, 1889, the Eiffel Tower became the world’s tallest structure. It kept that honor for 41 years until the Chrysler Building topped it out in 1930, standing at 1,046 feet.




The tower weighs 10,100 tons and comprises 18,000 metallic parts joined together by 2.5 million rivets. It is possible to climb to the top, but there are 1,665 steps. Most people take the lift.

Repainting the tower, which happens every seven years, requires 60 tons of paint. The color of the tower is not uniform. It has three distinct shades of the same hue. The darker is applied near the ground, the lighter covers the upper parts. This is done in order to limit the visual impact of the tower against the Parisian sky.



The tower base with the Trocadéro Palace, which was demolished in 1937 to make room for the Palais de Chaillot

Nowadays the color is bronze, but it is not definitive. Indeed, between two painting projects, visitors have the opportunity to give their opinions on the color to be taken for the next painting job. Of course, they have no choice between red, green, yellow or blue, but between different shades of brown-brown-bronze. There is a suggestion box on the first floor of the tower that receives these choices. Initially, the tower was brown-red. Later, it took on a yellow-ocher tone before finding its definitive color in the brown palette.

After the completion of the tower, and after having witnessed its success, most of the distinguished petition signatories apologized for their short-sightedness. However, Guy de Maupassant made it his honorable duty to frequently dine at the foot of the tower, which was—according to him—the only place in Paris where the structure could not be seen.

Since its inauguration in 1889, 303 million people have visited the tower.


Related post:

Paris of the 1870s: Risen From the Ashes


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Map of Paris circa 1910

When this map was printed at the beginning of the 20th century, Paris was still contained within the city walls.

 Full-screen clickable picture here.

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