Exploring the Père Lachaise and Charonne neighborhood of the 20th arrondissement. Aside from the famous cemetery there aren’t many “sights” to check off your list, but there’s always something interesting to discover in one of the least touristy areas of Paris.
The Cimetière Père-Lachaise (16 Rue du Repos, 20th M° Père-Lachaise or Philippe Auguste Tel 01 55 25 85 10) has been the most fashionable final resting place for Parisians since Napoléon opened it back in 1803. Named for the original landowner, Louis XIV’s confessor Père La Chaise, the cemetery’s dramatic landscape of funerary sculptures is somewhat softened by the thousands of trees and flowering hedges. Some visitors are content to stroll the peaceful 110 acres randomly to see what they find. Those looking for a specific grave should pick up a map at the entry, which shows where the more famous residents are buried, including Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, La Fontaine, Modigliani, Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, Marcel Proust, and Delacroix. One of the more solemn pilgrimage points is the Mur des Fédérés (Federalists’ Wall, at the southeastern corner of the cemetery), site of the bloody end to the 1871 Paris Commune. The cemetery is open daily at 8am-5:30pm (from 8:30am on Saturday, and 9am on Sunday and holidays).
Exit Père-Lachaise at the southeastern Porte de la Réunion (from Transversale N°2). On the left is the Jardin Naturel (120 Rue de la Réunion, 20th, M° Alexandre Dumas), a wild garden with a mini-wetland, prairie and forest to keep the dragonflies and birds happy. Cross the garden and take the Rue de Lesseps to the Rue de Bagnolet. Head up the hill, past grafitti’d buildings and the Flèche d’Or, a popular nightspot located in an old train depot, to the Eglise St-Germain-de-Charonne. This 12th-century church, with its own parish cemetery around the back, was the center of the old Charonne village before it became part of Paris. Cross the Place St-Blaise to the rehabilitated St-Blaise quarter. Some of locals don’t like the sterile new look of the neighborhood, but there are still a few interesting corners to explore. Do a little loop through the Passage des Deux Portes to the Rue Florian, where you can get a good look at the Petite Ceinture tracks.
Where’s the train?
The narrow train tracks you see around the outer edges of the city are part of the old Petite Ceinture, a circular passenger railway abandoned in the 1930s. Many projects over the years have been proposed to rehabilitate the tracks into a cycle path or greenbelt, but the numerous narrow tunnels pose too many safety issues for the moment. A few of the Petite Ceinture stations have been converted into cafés, such as the Flèche d’Or.
Turn left onto the Rue Vitreuve, crossing the Place des Grés (the Maison des Communistes is at #3), to the Rue des Balkans, lined with garden villas typical to this neighborhood. At the top of the street is the large Jardin Debrousse, with its charming Pavillon de l’Hermitage, the only remnant of what used to be the Château de Bagnolet, owned by the Duchess of Orléans in the 18th century.
Continue up the Rue de Bagnolet to Métro Porte de Bagnolet. If you don’t want to end your exploration here, turn left at the large intersection onto the Rue Géo Chavez, and right up the stairs to the charming neighborhood known as La Campagne à Paris. These 92 villas with private gardens were built as part of an ownership project for the working classes in 1910. It’s no surprise that most of these adorable houses still belong to the same families!
20th Arrondissement: Père-Lachaise & Charonne
M° Père Lachaise, Gambetta, Porte de Bagnolet, Philippe Auguste, Alexandre Dumas