Sunday, November 24, 2019
City of Immortals by Carolyn Campbell
According to Campbell, the 107-acre Pere-Lachaise Cemetery is the fourth most visited site in Paris, after the Arc de Triumphe, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower. Napoleon Bonaparte wanted a cemetery for the people, and in 1799 there was a competition to create new cemeteries outside the city center. The garden-style cemetery was the first of its kind in the world, although it became a model for others. The cemetery was named after the Pere Lachaise, confessor to the Sun King. It was laid out by architect, urban planner, and landscape designer Alexandre-Theodore Brongniart. However, there were few plots bought. The church was opposed to it because they would lose money, and people weren't interested in plots away from the city. But, once remains of Moliere and Jean de La Fontaine, and the lovers Heloise and Abelard, were moved there, people started to buy plots. Now, it's a final resting place with modern plots and grand mausoleums, with 300 spaces coming available every year. Currently there are remains of 2 million people there.
Campbell has a background in the arts, so she's particularly interested in the creative people who are in Pere-Lachaise. She discusses the artists, musicians, and composers who are there, although she also mentions several of the other monuments. But, her focus is on the creative people. In one unusual section, she "has conversations" with some of the immortals there - Colette, Chopin, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf.
The photographs in this book are beautiful. But, Campbell's greatest contribution is the invaluable map of the cemetery with a list of locations of creative people buried in the cemetery. She breaks the cemetery into three parts, and describes some of the walking difficulty in getting to some of the sites. She goes into detail as to each site, provides background of the artist, and, when known, also provides information about the artist or architect who worked on the memorial.
There are 107 acres in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, so, of course, Campbell doesn't identify every site. It took her over thirty years to identify, write about, and photograph the 84 cultural icons covered in this book. She discusses the architecture, the art and symbolism of cemetery art. City of Immortals is a book rich in detail and history. It's just right for someone who loves cemeteries and the history and stories behind them.
City of Immortals - Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris by Carolyn Campbell, with Joe Cornish. Goff Books, 2019. ISBN 9781943532292 (paperback), 200p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of the book.