Post Six: Cemetery Gates (the song by The Smiths)

One of the single most influential sites in all of Paris is the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. While this may seem strange to some, after some research it makes a great deal of sense; particularly if you look at the way the cemetery was layer out. The oldest parts of the cemetery were designed to have a central corridor or axial vista that goes from front to back up a hill to a monumental structure, in this case a chapel. Around this central vista are meandering paths that wind through the monuments, tombs, and nature that is strewn throughout the site. The nature that is there is heavily curated to balance the effect of humanity merging with the peace and tranquility of nature while also controlling said plant life to sustain the tombs. This model of cemetery design has permeated the world in the planning of not only cemeteries like Hollywood in Richmond, Virginia, but also parks like Maymont which is also in Richmond, Virginia. I’m from around there, so those were the first that came to mind.

The history of Pere Lachaise is very interesting, at least to me, and dates back to the very beginning of Paris as an urban center purely based on technicality. The initial primary municipal grave yard for Paris was in flat region of the Right Bank around what is now Les Halles, which was the site of the market even then which isn’t exactly ideal. Anyway, Paris is also on the Seine which, as mentioned in a previous blog, floods regularly. This became a bit of a problem as people kept dying causing the grave yard to fill up beyond capacity and the Seine kept flooding which caused the decomposing remains of the recently deceased to sharknado themselves around town. Slight hyperbole, but the health risks still withstanding a solution was required. The remains from the original site were removed and relocated to an old quarry turned ossuary now called the Catacombs. Other cemeteries were also created around the city on hills so that the flood waters couldn’t empty them to the great ossuary in the sea prematurely. During the reign if Napoleon, the cemetery of Pere Lachaise was founded to be the biggest and most popular cemetery yet; in theory, anyway. Popular artists and romantics had to be exhumed and reinterred there to encourage the artsy fartsy elite of Paris to want to eternally rest there. As the years went by, this massively popular cemetery grew in size and in inspiration becoming an icon the world around.

I drew the Pere Lachaise Cemetery’s crematorium.

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