PARIS — The official memorial to Princess Diana is tucked away in a quiet corner of the city, a classic French garden where basil, rosemary and thyme thrive alongside roses and marigolds spilling onto paths and climbing the walls of surrounding buildings.

But fans wanting to pay tribute to the "people's princess" seldom come, choosing instead the city's de facto shrine that stands above the tunnel entrance where she was killed five years ago.

The gleaming "Flame of Liberty" monument stands above the Pont de l'Alma tunnel where Diana, her companion Dodi Fayed, and chauffeur Henri Paul died in a car crash Aug. 31, 1997.

The flame — a copper replica of the Statue of Liberty's torch — was spontaneously transformed into an altar to Diana after the accident. Mourners piled mounds of flowers, glued photographs on it and left messages.

Eventually, the gold-plated flame and its black and gray marble pedestal — presented to the city by the International Herald Tribune newspaper in 1987 as a token of French-American friendship — took on a messy appearance.

As the fifth anniversary of Diana's death approaches, however, the city has cleaned the unofficial monument.

In December, city workers removed the flame, returning it to its pedestal in April in pristine condition. Steel barricades were put up to keep visitors at arm's length.

"We saw the monument was dirty all the time, so after the cleanup, we put barriers around it to stop people from writing graffiti on it," said Yolande Taurel, a spokeswoman for Paris City Hall.

The city had considered putting a memorial to the princess at the site of her death, Taurel said, but Diana's love of children persuaded them to dedicate an educational garden in her memory instead.

But hundreds of sightseers continue to flock every day to the Flame of Liberty instead of the garden in the chic Marais district. The garden is open to the public on weekends but used as a children's nature center during the week.

Frank Masterpasqua, professor at the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University in Chester, Pa., said the Pont de l'Alma monument is popular because people like to return to the place where tragic events happened.

"It gives them a sense of control," he said. "It's kind of magical — if they'd been there, they might have been able to do something."

Masterpasqua said the informal memorial also breeds a sense of community among visitors.

"People bond around the deceased," he said. "It's a sort of meeting place where everyone understands what the others are feeling."

Some fans at the flame are disappointed to find no official monument to the princess, others come expecting to find a stack of tributes and are startled to find they have been removed.

"I'm surprised — I expected to see flowers, graffiti, an informal memorial," said James Croll, 41, a travel agent on holiday in Paris from Ryegate, near London. "It would be nice to see a little something here."

Not everyone agrees.

"It's a tragic scene," said Croll's wife Clair, 36, a longtime Diana fan. "I always find it a bit morbid to see flowers at the side of the street where someone's died."

Masterpasqua said the flame is likely to remain a place of pilgrimage for Diana devotees for some time to come.

"People have created myths around the grassy knoll and Graceland," he said, referring to the patch of land near the site of President Kennedy's assassination and Elvis Presley's home in Memphis, Tenn. "These things take on a life of their own."