Under the Influence

The most-visited cemetery in the world

Cemetery tourism is becoming a fast-growing segment of the tourist industry. People plan their travel and vacations around the location of certain cemeteries. But one in particular draws the most visitors each year.
Tourists visit the US cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, Sunday, June, 6 2021. Several ceremonies took place on Sunday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of D-Day that led to the liberation of France and Europe from the German occupation. (AP Photo/David Vincent) (David Vincent/The Associated Press)

The most-visited cemetery in the world - the one that draws the most international tourism - is in Paris, France.

It is called Père-Lachaise.

The sprawling 110-acre park is located on the northeast side of the city. It is the largest cemetery in Paris containing over 70,000 tombs. It is also one of the most beautiful - and it has a very interesting history.

The cemetery was opened in 1804. Burial space was becoming a premium in Paris and city officials were concerned about the possibility of disease spreading from the other overcrowded cemeteries. So the city hired an architect and an urban planner to develop what was to become Père Lachaise, which at the time, was on the outskirts of town. It was unpopular because French citizens didn't want to walk that far during funeral processions.

In order to advertise the cemetery and encourage its use, Napoleon had the remains of famous people like Henry the Third's wife, poet Jean de la Fontaine and playwright Molière relocated to the new cemetery with much fanfare and publicity.

Not long after, Père Lachaise became the place to be.

Today, an entire industry has grown up around Père Lachaise. There are guided cemetery tours, blogs and books. Movies are filmed on the grounds. Many writers, actors, painters and politicians are interred there.

Chopin is buried there. But his heart isn't. The composer had a fear of being buried alive, so he asked that his heart be buried in Poland. Opera singer Maria Callas is buried there. So is famed novelist Marcel Proust. Edith Piaf is interned at the cemetery, close to four of her lovers. Marcel Marceau is quietly spending eternity there.

But the most popular, most-visited gravesites are for two famous people who were not French.

One is Oscar Wilde. The Irish author of The Picture of Dorian Gray died penniless in Paris in 1900 and was buried in a pauper's grave. But his body was later moved to Père Lachaise. His memorial is now listed as a historic monument.

Wilde was persecuted for his love life and once wrote that, "A kiss may ruin a human life." Over the years, a pilgrimage of fans constantly covered his tombstone in lipstick kisses. There have been so many red smooches, the grease in the lipstick penetrated the stone and began to irreparably damage the memorial.

Recently, a glass screen has been placed around it.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)