Paris is one of the most enchanting cities on earth. Visitors marvel at famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre-Dame. People seek romance on the River Seine, get lost in the cobblestone streets of Montmartre, and drool over decadent French food in sophisticated bistros along the Champs Elysées. It seems that everything in the city is a work of art. Even death plays a role in keeping Paris beautiful. The French don’t shy away from death; they embrace it, create masterpieces in celebration of it, and make the final resting place of the soul a spot worthy of spending eternity.
Here are the top spots to explore the haunting beauty of Paris.
Cemetery of Père Lachaise
Possibly the most visited cemetery in the world, the Cimetiere du Père Lachaise is located in the northeast corner of Paris. Spend an afternoon strolling through the grounds, which contain the graves of 800,000 people. Opened in 1804, the cemetery displays tombstones ranging from forgotten and overgrown plots to grand masterpieces like the tomb of Abelard and Heloise. The bones of these doomed lovers were interred together back in the Middle Ages, and today couples leave love letters at the foot of their gravesite.
Deb at Jim Morrison’s grave
Other famous burial sites at Pere Lachaise include the graves of American singer (and former front man of The Doors) Jim Morrison; Polish composer Frederic Chopin, French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (a.k.a., Moliere), as well as the family plot of French crooner, Edith Piaf. Probably the most famous tomb in the cemetery is that of Irish poet and writer, Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s grave is a sizeable monument of a winged creature; the stone has poetry etched in it and is covered with graffiti and lipstick-marks left by adoring fans kissing the tomb.
Visiting a labyrinth of bones and sculls may not sound like the best way to spend a day, but the 1.2-mile maze 65 feet beneath city streets is a fascinating stop on any Paris itinerary. Don’t let the narrow spiral staircase of 130 steps scare you. The catacombs were developed in the 1700s when human remains in several Paris cemeteries were contaminating water and causing disease. Officials decided to close some of the cemeteries and transfer the remains to old quarries outside of town.
Today the catacombs are located in the Montparnasse district of Paris. In total, 6 million bones are resting in this underground labyrinth, and each of the catacombs is arranged meticulously—with a barrel of bones displayed in the center of, more bones arranged in the pattern of crosses on walls, and skulls peeking out over stacks of femurs and tibias. Most bones have been sorted by their original cemetery and year they arrived. The last transfer took place in 1859 and the catacombs opened to the public in the late 1800s. Today 200 people at a time are permitted to witness the macabre beauty of this underground attraction.
Viewfinder Tip: Buy a Paris Metro pass for unlimited transportation around Paris for only €6.80 per day.
L’Hotel national des Invalides
“Les Invalides,” as it’s known, is a museum dedicated to the military history of France. It was founded in 1670 by Louis XIV to provide aid and accommodations for war veterans. Today, Les Invalides houses three separate museums: a military museum, a maps museum, and a museum dedicated to the liberation of France in World War II.
But it is Napoleon’s tomb that attracts most to the site. The impressive crypt comprises a giant red sarcophagus on a green granite base—both of which aresituated under the impressive Dome des Invalides. Surrounding the tomb are 12 sculptures honoring the Napoleon’s victorious military campaigns. Napoleon’s isn’t the only tomb in L’Hotel national des Invalides; military officers who served under him, several members of his family, and other French war heroes also have tombs here. The surrounding sculptures, paintings, and mausoleums are works of art, and even though much of the building celebrates death, touring it is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.
Paris is truly a city that showcases beauty in everything. It is a city of art in life and in death.
What other death-inspired attractions have you visited during your travels?