Montmartre musings 001 Sacre Coeur

La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre

Capped by the white dome of the Sacré Cœur Basilica, Montmartre is a hillside neighborhood on Paris’s north side with a rich and bohemian history.


Eiffel Tower from Montmartre

Eiffel Tower from Montmartre

It’s where artists Monet, Mondrian, Pissarro, Matisse, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and van Gogh painted during the Belle Époque.

It’s where African-American expatriate Langston Hughes wrote, and it’s where the Moulin Rouge birthed the can-can.


Street musician in front of Sacré Cœur

Street musician in front of Sacré Cœur

Montmartre first appears in history as the place where Bishop Saint Denis was decapitated by the Romans in 250 A.D. for preaching the Christian faith.

Nearby excavations have turned up vestiges of Roman baths from the 2nd century and Roman coins from the 3rd century.

Windmill on Montmartre

Windmill on Montmartre

The first of the windmills that later gave the Moulin Rouge its name appeared on the hill in the fifteenth century.  A couple of the original thirteen mills still remain.

Montmartre is also where the Paris Commune‘s 1871 uprising began.  The heights were retaken from the Communards by the French army in heavy fighting that became known as “Bloody Week” and the uprising was soon quelled.

Montmartre musings 006 street scene

Street behind Sacré Cœur

The Sacré Cœur Basilica was built as a symbol of penance for the suffering of the Paris Commune uprising and the Franco-Prussian War.

Financed by public subscription, construction began in 1875 and lasted for more than forty years.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, Montmartre had become an artists’ colony famous for its cabarets and cafes.

Cabarets like the Chat Noir and the Lapin Agile were popular haunts for writers and poets, and the Moulin Rouge is the setting for much of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work.

Montmartre musings 005 plaza

Plaza on Montmartre




Among the last of the bohemian gathering places to shutter its doors was R-26, a salon frequented by Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt, who immortalized it in his song “R. vingt-six”.

Montmartre musings 005 street scene

Montmartre street with dome of Sacré Cœur






The Basilica Sacré Cœur is a great starting point for a stroll through this picturesque neighborhood that winds down hill toward the Pigalle district.


The route passes the Espace Dalí, which showcases the work of Salvador Dalí.


Merry-g-round at the foot of Montmartre

Merry-go-round at the foot of Montmartre

It also  passes Renoir’s former studio, now the Musée de Montmartre, and the Bateau-Lavoir building, where Picasso, Modigliani and other artists once lived and worked.



Most of the artists moved to Paris’s Montparnasse neighborhood after the outbreak of World War I, but artists can still be seen with their easels amidst the tables and colorful umbrellas of Montmartre’s Place du Tertre.

Montmartre musings 009 Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge, Pigalle


At the bottom of the hill is the red-light district of Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge, from which Toulouse-Lautrec drew much of his inspiration.  It’s safe enough during the day, but no place for children, or at night.


Today, the neighborhood includes stores that cater  to rock musicians, and several rock concert halls, also used for rock music.


To get to Montmartre, take the Metro to the Anvers, Pigalle, Blanche, Abbesses, Lamarck – Caulaincourt or Jules Joffrin stations.  Take the funicular railway up the south side of the hill or take the bus which circles it.


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