Montmartre was once a bustling place filled with artists and well… a lot of other things. It was established as an independent commune until 1860 when it was swallowed up by the 18th arrondissement. At the end of the nineteenth century, this neighborhood was avoided like the plague because of so many cabarets and brothels. Still, artists came from everywhere to live here and transformed it into the unique area it is today.
Once occupied by the Romans who delighted in persecuting Christians at the time, Montmartre became the site of many early Christian deaths. So many in fact, that the place was actually called the “hill of the martyr”. The most famous of the martyrs was Saint Denis who was decapitated atop the Montmartre hill around 250 AD for preaching his faith. Saint-Denis remains France’s most famous “cephalophoric” saint. The Catholic church invented the word, cephalophore, for signifying the death of saints that have been decapitated. Apparently, there were so many of these martyrs that a word needed to be created. A fun thought for sure. Legend has it that after the beheading, Saint-Denis carried his head down the Rue de Martyrs and over four miles to, what is now known, as the Basilica of Saint-Denis. He then delivered a sermon before collapsing or so says the legend.
Montmartre didn’t technically become part of Paris until 1870. During this time it was filled with independent working-class citizens that loathed the aristocracy and had a bit of revolutionary spirit. Being a commune they were not subject to King Louis Philippe’s alcohol taxes and therefore were a very popular place. When Prussia invaded Paris in 1870 the city entered into a treaty however, the commune of Montmartre abstained. Instead, they gunned up and fought against Paris in a small civil war. They were able to hold out for three months before Parisian troops overran them and the commune was annexed into the city.
Artists such as Renoir, Seurat, Degas, van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec came into this area of, now Paris, to paint and join in the fun of absinthe drinking and brothels. As time went on into the 1900s, more struggling artists such as Picasso, Braque, and others set up shop and could be found painting in the Bateau Lavoir. It became the birthplace of modern art.
To me, the second section is the most beautiful. It is a great place to have dinner or an evening stroll. Often you will find artists painting or drawing the landscape that is laid out in front of them. Don’t worry about carrying a map, just wander around and appreciate the beauty of these twisted little streets and the cafes that you see all around.
Continue walking and you will find some steep streets that lead up to the famous Sacré-Coeur. It can be a bit of a hike so if you are visiting during hot weather make sure you stay hydrated.
Here are some of the things to see in Montmartre:
Montmartre funicular is open from 6 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. and takes about a minute and a half to reach the top. The ticket office closes at midnight and tickets cost about 1.70 euros.
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