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.

Montmartre Streets

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:

  • Abbesses Metro Station: this is the deepest station in Paris. However, it is not without its own charm. There is a glass roof and inside are painted scenes of Montmartre. This is also the supposed site of Sanit  Denis’ martyrdom.
  • Love Wall | Le Mur des Je t’aime: Outside of the metro station you will see the famous Wall of Love in the Jehan Rictus garden. It is over 40 meters and is made of enameled lava with hundreds of ways to say “I love you” written on it. There are more than 250 different languages.
  • Rue de l’Abreuvoir: this is one of the prettiest streets in Paris. Travel down the cobblestone lane and you will come across the Maison Rose café made famous on Instagram.
  • Maison Rose: This is probably the most photographed coffee shop in Paris. Once run by a dear friend of Picasso, Germaine Pichot, it was frequented by many famous people. If you are a fan of Emily in Paris, this is one of the filming locations.
  • Café des Deux Moulins: became super famous after being featured in the movie Amelie.
  • Bateau Lavoir: located at 3 Rue de Ravignan this building was a residence and studio for artists like Picasso, Renoir, and Andre Derain. It was burned down and reconstructed. The only original piece left is the door. In 1904, when Picasso moved in he began the style of Cubism. His piece Demoiselles d’Avignon was considered scandalous when it was released in 1907. The five naked women were shown in a brothel, his lover, Fernande Olivier, claimed that they were all versions of her.
  • Place Dalida: is a super quaint little square at the end of charming streets. The views from here are amazing. Dalida was a singer, born in Egyptian, she gained fame in the 1950s. Her life was fraught with troubles and after her husband and friends committed suicide she overdosed on drugs in 1987.
  • Place Suzanne-Buisson: If you want to get away from the crowds, head to this small park. There is even a statue of Saint Denis holding his head.
  • Pablo Picasso’s First Studio: located at 49 Rue Gabrielle, this was Picasso’s first home in Paris. The 2nd floor is where he lived at the age of 19. He lived here with his friend Casagemus until he committed suicide. Picasso became depressed over losing his friend and you can see it in his work. It is known as the blue period. You can’t go into the house, however, it is still worth seeing as part of art history.
  • Van Gogh apartment:  Vincent lived with his brother Theo at 54 Rue Lepic in Montmartre for two years.
  • Toulouse-Lautrec home: he lived near van Goghn on Rue Caulaincourt until moving to the south of France. However, he continued to paint scenes from Montmartre until his death.
  • Le Consulat: this is a famous café that was frequented by artists
  • Clos Montmartre: this is the only working vineyard left in Paris and every September, the grapes are bottled and available for sale.
  • Montmartre Cemetery: This might be a weird place to go visit but it is a gorgeous space with beautiful sculptures. Many famous Parisians are buried here including Dalida and Edgar Degas
  • Windmills of Montmartre: this area used to have 15 windmills, there are only two left now. Moulin de la Galette was depicted in Renoir’s most famous painting in the Musee d’Orsay, it is now a restaurant.
  • Rue Norvin: a gorgeous little area with cobblestone streets, chic cafes, and shops. This is the Paris you envision. This street was also a favorite haunt of artists such as Monet, van Gogh, and Picasso.
Montmartre funicular

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.

Helpful Information

Best Time to Visit: Montmartre Funicular: Metro: Anvers, line 2; Abbesses, line 12; Pigalle, lines 2 and 12; Blanche, line 2.

Important Information


Kristal Ham

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