Paris…The perfect place for romance. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in “La ville de l’amour” you’ll fall in love with Montmartre. Once the artistic heart of Paris, the hill of Montmartre was home to painters such as Picasso, Monet, Dali, Van Gough, and Matisse. Its cobblestone streets were walked by some of the world’s finest writers, composers and musical legends like Edith Piaf.
Originally outside of city limits and free of its rules, Montmartre became a rowdy district for drinking and debauchery. Naughty establishments sprouted up, like the infamous Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir.
Later in the 19th century, then-penniless artists had come to live, work and play here. The town became synonymous with a free-spirited, bohemian lifestyle. Artists like Renoir would often meet at the classic Lapin Agile Cabaret, to share music, poetry and creative spirit. The iconic Moulin de la Galette, another favourite haunt, is immortalized in some of the great works of Van Gough and Renoir, to name a few.
With its cinema-worthy streets, it’s no wonder many movies were filmed in Montmartre, like “La Vie en Rose” with Marion Cotillard. Montmartre means ‘mountain of the martyr’; and gets its name from Saint Denis, decapitated on the hill around 250 AD.
The legendary Bateau Lavoir was where Picasso lived and worked with other famous artists. It was a dark dreary building in its day. During storms it swayed like the washing-boats on the Seine River, hence the name. If you’re a fan of famous French chanteuse and actress, “Dalida”, who led a tragic life until her suicide in 1987, visit “Place Dalida”.
Of course, Montmartre is also known for the stunning Basilica de Sacré Cœur. It is the second tallest landmark after the Eiffel Tower and offers one of the best views of Paris. If you dare, climb the spiral staircase to the top of the dome. There are plenty of perfect photo opportunities.
Designed by Paul Abadie in Roman-Byzantyne style, construction of the Basilica began in 1876. It stands out from other contemporary buildings in France built mostly in Romanesque style. Statues of Joan of Arc and King Saint Louis IX perch high above its entryway. Grotesque gargoyle creatures act as rain spouts. Inside, the massive mosaic “Christ in Majesty”, created by Luc-Olivier Merson, is one of the largest of its kind. The stained glass windows, constructed in 1922 were destroyed by a World War II bombing, and later rebuilt in 1946. Wonder how the Basilica stays white over the years? It’s because it was built with Château-Landon stones which secrete calcite, acting like a bleacher.
Next door is Saint Pierre de Montmartre, one of the oldest churches in Paris. Be prepared for crowds, especially on weekends. You can always sneak away into the back streets to get a sense of local life. Of course, part of Montmartre’s charm is its convivial ambiance, so don’t be shy to wander. You can feel the artistic spirit still going strong, from living statues, to street artists recreating scenes of Montmartre. Browse the shops and pick up some infamous vintage posters to bring home.
Or, take a breather and get a bite in a café or restaurant. Montmartre has another secret: “The Clos Montmartre Vineyard”, the only remaining vineyard in the city of Paris. It still produces wine, which is auctioned to charity, but you can pick up a souvenir bottle at the tourist office.
So if you visit France and you’re an art or history buff, you won’t want to miss Montmartre, one of the most memorable places in Paris.
For more information visit http://www.montmartre-paris-france.com/ and use google translate for the English version.