The cemetery is on Boulevard de Mènilmontant. The Paris Métro station Philippe Auguste on line 2 is next to the main entrance, while the station named Père Lachaise, on both lines 2 and 3, is 500 metres away near a side entrance that has been closed to the public. Many tourists prefer the Gambetta station on line 3, as it allows them to enter near the tomb of Oscar Wilde and then walk downhill to visit the rest of the cemetery.
Each year, Père Lachaise Cemetery has more than 3.5 million visitors, making it the most visited cemetery in the world.
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 during 1682 on the site of the chapel. The property, situated on the hillside from which the king watched skirmishing between the armies of the Condé and Turenne during the Fronde, was bought by the city during 1804. Established by Napoleon during this year, the cemetery was laid out by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart and later extended.
As the city graveyards of Paris filled, several new, large cemeteries, outside the precincts of the capital, replaced them: Montmartre Cemetery in the north, Père Lachaise in the east, and Montparnasse Cemetery in the south. Near the middle of the city is Passy Cemetery.
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 bell-boy of the Faubourg St. Antoine. Her grave no longer exists as the plot was a temporary concession. Napoleon, who had been proclaimed Emperor by the Senate three days earlier, had declared during the Consulate that "Every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion".
At the time of its opening, the cemetery was considered to be situated too far from the city and attracted few funerals. Moreover, many Roman Catholics refused to have their graves in a place that had not been blessed by the Church. During 1804, the Père Lachaise contained only 13 graves. Consequently, the administrators devised a marketing strategy and during 1804, with great fanfare, organized the transfer of the remains of Jean de La Fontaine and Molière. The next year there were 44 burials, with 49 during 1806, 62 during 1807 and 833 during 1812. Then, in another great spectacle of 1817, the purported 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).