père lachaise cemetery, paris 11.2008
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The cemetery takes its name from the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise (1624–1709), who lived in the Jesuit house rebuilt in 1682 on the site of the chapel. The property, situated on the hillside from which the king watched skirmishing between the Condé and Turenne, was bought by the city in 1804, laid out by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart, and later extended.
The cemetery was established by Napoleon I in 1804. Cemeteries had been banned inside Paris in 1786, after the closure of the Saints Innocents Cemetery. Several new cemeteries replaced the Parisian ones, outside the precincts of the capital: Montmartre, Père Lachaise, Montparnasse and Passy Cemeteries.
At the time of its opening, the cemetery was considered to be situated too far from the city and attracted few funerals. Consequently, the administrators devised a marketing strategy and with great fanfare organised the transfer of the remains of La Fontaine and Molière, in 1804. Then, in another great spectacle in 1817, the purported remains of Pierre Abélard and Héloïse were also transferred to the cemetery with their monument's canopy made from fragments of the abbey of Nogent-sur-Seine (by tradition, lovers or lovelorn singles leave letters at the crypt in tribute to the couple or in hope of finding true love).
This strategy achieved its desired effect when people began clamouring to be buried among the famous citizens. Records show that, within a few years, Père Lachaise went from containing a few dozen permanent residents to more than 33,000. Today there are over 300,000 bodies buried there, and many more in the columbarium.
The Communards' Wall (Mur des Fédérés) is also located in the cemetery. This is the site where 147 Communards, the last defenders of the workers' district of Belleville, were shot on 28 May 1871 — the last day of the "Bloody Week" (Semaine Sanglante) in which the Paris Commune was crushed.
After that week, the cemetery gained a special importance to the political left in France, manifested in annual processions sometimes drawing tens or even hundreds of thousands of participants and led by the main leaders of the left parties and organizations. Various prominent left-wing leaders are buried in the vicinity, where a monument was also erected honouring the French Brigadists.
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