Thursday, 5 May 2016

Paris: Père-Lachaise - Belleville - Buttes-Chaumont

 Entrance to Père Lachaise

You enter the great cemetery of Père-Lachaise though imposing gates. It was established in 1804 to replace a number of insalubrious parish  cemeteries. With over 4,000 trees its 43 hectares make it the largest green space in Paris. It is made up up of a large number of mostly straight paths each lined with tombs, often family ones. Countless famous people are buried here: Colette, Moliere, Isadora Duncan, Mariah Callas, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust. We decided to confine ourselves to just two, the first of which was Jim Morrison, of the Doors.

It is a small grave – by the standards of Père-Lachaise – tucked into a quiet corner between several others. It is the only one with a crowd barrier around it. We were slightly offended by some other visitors smoking and drinking, but Jim would probably have done the same in their shoes.

Further on a terrace offered a pleasing view towards the Tour Montparnasse which we visited yesterday.

We headed right to pass the Crematorium and Columbarium. The main building has an unusual roof with golden leaf patterns on it.

Before we left the cemetery we visited our second grave, that of Oscar Wilde which is surmounted by a rather wonderful scuplture by Jacob Epstein. The figure once had testicles, but these were removed in an act of vandalism in 1961.

The grave is protected by a plexiglass sheet, and this is apparently because a tradition developed whereby visitors would kiss the tomb after applying lipstick to their mouth, thereby leaving a "print" of their kiss (why?). The screen was designed to prevent this.

We left Père Lachaise to reach the Boulevard  Gambetta and then head into Belleville (literally of course "beautiful town"). Our guide book (1993) laments the modern housing developments which have reduced the attractiveness of the area and it is surely worse now. After a while I did spot some nice tiles on a house gable, but walking through Belleville was a bit dispiriting. For the only time while we were in Paris we saw a patrolling solder armed with a machine gun on one of the streets.

Very soon after this we reached the Parc de Belleville. We had picked a poor day for this walk – it was Ascension Day, a public holiday in France – and the park was absolutely heaving. There was a nice view however over Paris and I was able to capture the Eiffel Tower and the Tour Montparnasse with the coloured roof of the Pompidou Centre in the middle.

We plodded on and eventually reached Avenue Simon-Bolivar which felt like a return to normal Paris. After a fortifying glass of rose and a bit of banter with the cheerful waiter who served us, we entered the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. This is about half the size of Père-Lachaise (22ha) and was created in 1863. It has several hills and a lake with an island crowned by a tempietto which is reached by a bridge. It was even more crowded than the Parc de Belleville.

I quite liked the brick pavilions with their tile decorations.

This picture shows the tempietto and the bridge (on the left) and some of the multitude who covered the grassy slopes. 

It is a lovely park however and we still managed to find a bench to sit and read for a while. Eventually time caught up with us and we headed off to catch the metro back to our hotel.  The métro entrance at Bolzaris was a particularly good example.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

From: Walking Paris by Giles Desmons (New Holland, 1994). References to shops, bars and restaurants may be out of date, but it remains a good guide. There is a 1999 edition.

Distance: 3.5 miles.

Rating: two stars. I really can't recommend this walk. Both Père-Lachaise and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont are well worth visiting, but do them separately or use the métro to get from one to the other.

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