Père Lachaise cemetery is the most-visited non-secular cemetery in the world with good reason. Within its walls lie luminaries like Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Collette, Gertrude Stein, Modigliani and so many more of the most celebrated and interesting people the world has ever known.
Established in 1804, Père Lachaise is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris (44 hectares or 110 acres). The cemetery takes its name from the father 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. Established by Napoleon in 1804, the cemetery was laid out by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart in less than six months.
Père Lachaise Cemetery was opened on 21 May 1804. The first person buried there was a five-year-old girl named Adélaïde Paillard de Villeneuve, the daughter of a door bellboy of the Faubourg St. Antoine. Her grave no longer exists as the plot was only purchased as a temporary concession.
At the time of its opening, the cemetery was considered to be situated too far from the city and attracted few funerals. In 1804, the Père Lachaise had contained only 13 graves. Then the administrators devised a marketing strategy and with great fanfare, organized the transfer of the remains of national treasures Jean de La Fontaine and Molière.
The following year there were 44 burials, with 49 in 1806, 62 in 1807 and 833 in 1812. Then, in another great spectacle in 1817, the remains of Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d'Argenteuil 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: people began clamoring 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 in 1830. Père Lachaise has been expanded five times: in 1824, 1829, 1832, 1842 and 1850.
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.
Visit Wikipedia for more information on many of the famous residents of Père Lachaise.