ArtOdysseys: Paris’ Haunted Père Lachaise Cemetery
|Welcome to Paris' Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Dare to walk along Errazu Way at night? THIS PHOTO ONLY: Peter Poradisch via Wikimedia.org.|
Welcome to ArtOdysseys—my monthly series dedicated to my love of art and travel, my mission wherever the roads or rivers may lead! October’s topic is Outdoor Sculpture and since we’re publishing on Halloween, I thought I would combine the two themes for a little paranormal fun and art education, hence my choice of the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris for its haunting mausoleums, tombs and headstones not to mention legends of otherworldly visits. Boo!
Dare to walk along the streets of the City of the Dead? Topping many lists of the world’s most haunted places, Père Lachaise Cemetery is Paris’ largest cemetery in the city proper. Located in the 20th arrondissement, Père Lachaise, named after Père Francois de la Chaise, confessor to Louis XIV, opened in 1802 and features 110 acres of some of the most exquisite and macabre sculptures in the world. Believed to be haunted, this is one place I would not venture out in the middle of a dark and gloomy night, especially on Halloween.
Reputed to walk among the living are: Adolphe Thiers, prime minister under King Louis-Philippe in the 19th century, who tugs on visitors’ clothes should they tread too close to his resting place. Jim Morrison of Doors fame is often seen roaming near his grave as well. Countless others see spectral lights, translucent figures and other disembodied spirits roaming throughout the cemetery and many have had close encounters too frightful to imagine.
The final resting place for many artists, actors, scientists, politicians, and others, Père Lachaise is a must-see stop when visiting the city of light. Those among the interred include Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Edith Piaf, Marcel Marceau, Chopin and countless others who comprise a total population in excess of 300,000 in this “city of the dead.”
While this article started out as a lighthearted approach to Halloween and the spooky sculptures within Père Lachaise, I found my heart aching by the time I was finished with it because of the memorials to the prisoners of the WWII concentration camps. While their monuments are among the most macabre, their stories and their lives should be remembered and honored forever, and never taken half-heartedly!
Highlights on this haunted tour of Père Lachaise in Paris include:
|Buchenwald-Dora Memorial by Louis Bancel. THIS PHOTO ONLY: JHvW via Wikimedia.org.|
Inaugurated in 1964, the Buchenwald-Dora Memorial honors victims of World War II and was designed by Louis Bancel, a mid-20th-century sculptor who was commissioned by the Association des Désportés de Buckwnwald-Dora to create this bronze macabre statue to honor the German Nazi Camp prisoners in 1957.
|Tomb of Georges Rodenbach sculpted by Charlott Dubray. THIS PHOTO ONLY: Wp82 via Wikimedia.org.|
Another fascinating and haunting funerary sculpture by French sculptor Charlott Dubray belongs to Georges Rodenbach, a 19th-century Belgian writer and poet most famous today for his novel entitled “Burges la Morte.” Obsessed with death evident in much of his work, he is pictured here rising from his earthly tomb with a rose in his hand.
|Mauthausen Memorial. THIS PHOTO ONLY: JHvW via Wikimedia.org.|
The Mauthausen Memorial, among the most poignant and moving in my essay, honors French victims of the Austrian concentration camp who were sentenced to the labor camp to work to utter exhaustion and death. Inspired by the plight of those prisoners, the sculptor depicts one prisoner carrying a granite block up 186 steps known as the “Stairs of Death,” a suffering task endured by more than 100,000 prisoners.
|Tomb of Oscar Wilde designed by Sir Jacob Epstein. THIS PHOTO ONLY: JHvW via Wikimedia.org.|
The Tomb of Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer and poet who penned “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in 1890, shows a half-demon, half-angel figure sculpted by Sir Jacob Epstein, an American-born British sculptor. The monument spawned quite a controversy for its exposed genitalia and while Parisian authorities succeeded in concealing it for awhile, it was later removed during WWII.
|Tomb of Painter Theodore Gericault by sculptor Antoine Etex. THIS PHOTO ONLY: Rama via Wikimedia.org.|
Jean-Louis André Géricault’s final resting place was created by 19th-century painter, sculptor and architect Antoine Etex who actually created this and the following sculpture. Géricault’s tomb features a bronze statue of the painter and a relief of his highly controversial painting of the “Raft of the Medusa.”
|Tomb of the Family Raspail by Antoine Etex. THIS PHOTO ONLY: JHvW via Wikimedia.org.|
Once again we see the work of Antoine Etex on this tomb for the Family Raspail where he sculpted Madame Rapali’s "Farewell to the Jailed Revolutionary," a ghost whose arm stretches upward from his shroud to the prison-barred window.
This is only a small sampling of the tens of thousands of monuments awaiting your visit at the Père Lachaise in Paris. Below is a quick video tour through other highlights of the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
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