August 18, 2010

Discover Paris: Montmartre and its beautiful white Church

The Church of the Sacré-Cœur, perched atop the Butte Montmartre, attracts tourists from around the world. There are no more balls and cabarets of the Belle Époque. Remains the charm of the old Montmartre: its steep streets, its flights of stairs and its beautiful green-roofed houses. On the boulevards, the concert halls are filling up at night while the Pigalle of sex is awaking. A few minutes away, the New Athens district reveals the charms of its romantic quiet streets lined with hotels. A nice transition before walking into bustle of the boulevards.

Start you visit at the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur. It’s a Roman Catholic Church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. The inspiration for the Basilica originated in the wake of the division in French society that arose in the decades following French Revolution, between ultra-Catholics and legitimist royalists on one side, and socialists and radicals on the other. A law of public utility was passed to seize land at the summit of Montmartre for the construction of the basilica. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914, although consecration of the basilica was delayed until after World War I. Inside, a mosaic in the apse, entitled Christ in Majesty, is among the largest in the world. The basilica complex includes a garden for meditation, with a fountain. The top of the dome is open to tourists and affords a spectacular panoramic view of the city of Paris, which is mostly to the south of the basilica.

Have a look at the Church St Pierre de Montmartre, one of the oldest churches of Paris hidden behind a facade of the 18th Century. It is the only remain of the abbey Aux Dames (1147), built on the remains of an alleged former Roman temple, from where could come the 4 columns of marble of the heart of the church. The church is the location at which the vows were taken that led to the founding of the Society of Jesus.

Walk around the Place du Tertre. With its many artists setting up their easels each day for the tourists, the Place du Tertre is a reminder of the time when Montmartre was the Mecca of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century, many penniless painters including Picasso and Utrillo were living there. Prominent in the square is a cafe, Au Clairon des Chasseurs, which is famous for its reasonably priced local cuisine, and as a bonus, its constant live music which is in the style of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. L'Espace Salvador Dalí, a museum principally dedicated to the sculpture and drawings of Salvador Dalí, can be found a few steps from Place du Tertre.


Walk down the hill to the Moulin Rouge.  It is a cabaret built in 1889, marked by the red windmill on its roof. The Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe. Today the Moulin Rouge is a tourist destination, offering musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world. Much of the romance of turn-of-the-century France is still present in the club's decor.

Have a look around the Nouvelle Athènes district. The triangle formed by Place Pigalle / Notre-Dame-de-Laurette / Sainte Trinité, built in the 18th century, unveils romantic splendor: English gardens, courtyards and arched passages, neoclassical buildings which were once the residence of a community of artists (Berlioz, Sand, Degas, Chopin, Dumas ...)

End your visit by the Passages Couverts on Boulevard Montmartre. It took a few architectural tricks to build these magnificent glass-roofed passageways and hide the irregularity of the plots. The Passage des Panoramas opened in 1799, followed in 1846 and 1847 by the passages Jouffroy and Verdeau. Traders have kept the tradition of old shops. Some shops are like small museums: books, comics, toys, etc.

How to get there: Montmartre is served by the metro:  line 2 (stations of Anvers, Pigalle and Blanche) and the line 12 (stations of Pigalle, Abbesses, Lamarck - Caulaincourt and Jules Joffrin).

Where to stay: there are many hotels in Paris city centre for all budgets and all tastes.

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