No quartier in Paris has such a contradictory reputation as Montmartre and the entertainments district around Place Pigalle. The butte ("hill") of Montmartre once was a hotbed of Bohemian artists, who in spite of many ingenious new ideas usually had to eke out an impoverished existence. Around the year 1900 famous painters, for example Renoir, Monet, Gauguin, van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse- Lautrec and Picasso lived at various times in Montmartre. Place Pigalle, at the foot of the hill, became a synonym for the erotic business, which in the “city of love” has a long tradition. “Pigalle, Pigalle, that is the large mouse trap in the center of Paris” – on its stages singers performed saucy but emotional chansons, and provocative dancers the can-can, then held to be very risqué; authors like Frank Wedekind and Stefan Zweig extolled the sweet life in the village, with its garden restaurants, vineyards and windmills, which was only incorporated into the city of Paris in 1860.
Even in the first half of the 20th century Montmartre had already become a legend. Today lovers of Paris come from all over the world to discover the former artists’ quarter, to have their portrait done by one of the painters on Place du Tertre and to absorb the magnificent panoramic view of Paris from the steps of the Sacré- Coeur.
Moulin Rouge, located on the Boulevard de Clichy (Métro: Blanche), is most famously the birthplace of the can-can, and with its variety program it remains the principal tourist draw in the Pigalle district. Opened in 1889 for the World Exhibition, it went through periods of success and decline until the growth of tourism in Paris brought guests here by the busload.
With the exception of the chanson hall, Les Deux Ânes (100, bd de Clichy), in which traditional and new French chansons are performed, the district here has nothing else to offer except sex shows, sex movies and sex shops.
Cimetière de Montmartre
The Cimetière de Montmartre (Cemetery of the Artists) has its main entrance along the small Avenue Rachel. This is one of the three large inner-city cemeteries of Paris. At the entrance you can obtain a map from the gate attendant. Now you can go in search of the graves of Heinrich Heine and Jacques Offenbach, Hector Berlioz and the Goncourt Brothers, Edgar Dégas, Théophile Gautier and François Truffaut.
La Butte is the hill of Montmartre, where you can search out the meager remains of an artists' village. A bridge over the Cimetière de Montmartre carries a road, Rue Caulaincourt, which then continues upwards to La Butte, the actual hill. Rue Caulaincourt does not make its living from mass tourism and has thus retained its original character. In this street which gently sweeps up the hill, simple bistros, between which small shops have developed, make a pleasant contrast to the tourist pubs at the top of the hill. The chic Avenue Junot which runs parallel, was laid out in the year 1910 and the houses built mainly in the 1920’s. The result was a significant ensemble of art déco houses, the best of which are to be found in the Villa Léandre #, a cul-desac which branches off to the right and where there are small bungalows with gardens in front.
Continuing along Avenue Junot you pass behind the Moulin de la Galette $ the last windmill in Montmartre (visits are not possible). It was built in the 17th century and became famous at the beginning of the 19th century, when the bal was opened in it, a garden restaurant, in which an orchestra played music for dancing. Soon it became a popular motif for painters. The most famous picture of the Bal au Moulin de la Galette was painted by Pierre Auguste Renoir (the original painting now hangs in the Musée d’Orsay).
The steep Rue Lepic was the old road from Paris to Montmartre. There is also a windmill here, the Moulin du Radet (corner of Rue Girardon); it is in fact only a façade but nonetheless an old one. It used to mark the entrance to another bal restaurant. In the vicinity there are several small restaurants with inexpensive menus (and usually musical accompaniment) – which can be wholly recommended for a pleasant evening.
From here it is not much farther to the heart of the old settlement Montmartre, once a village on the hilltop, the Butte, and still full of interesting little corners. Souvenir shops and sausage stands have moved into the old houses, from some pubs the sound of piano music drifts out onto the streets and portrait artists wait in the streets, so that as soon as they spy a tourist they can make the first marks on their canvas. In order to fully enjoy this quarter, which really is quite idyllic, you should leave Rue Norvins as quickly as possible – for example by turning right into Rue Poulbot which leads to Place du Calvaire.
Another possibility is to take the even narrower Rue Saint-Rustique which runs parallel to Rue Norvins. The very first house on the left, the Cabaret à la Bonne Franquette, became well-known as one of the Montmartre motifs painted by Vincent van Gogh.
Place du Tertre
Place du Tertre is the world-famous artists’ square and onetime village square of Montmartre, situated at the end of Rue Norvins. It is of course inundated with tourists, and the restaurants in the center of the square naturally add on the surcharge which always has to be paid in tourist centers. And all around here the present-day Montmartre artists produce their works of art.
On the small square directly adjacent, partly hidden by trees, there is the rather inconspicuous church of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre. The oldest church in Paris, dedicated in 1147, it was the convent chapel of the Benedictine nuns of Montmartre. Thorough renovations carried out in the 19th century left few of the original parts of the church intact.
The Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur, a gleaming white edifice on the Montmartre hill, is frequently referred to as the Taj Mahal of Paris. It is one of the notable, well-visited landmarks of Paris, situated in a scenic location overlooking the city. After the defeat of France in the war of 1870/71 against Germany, the French National Assembly called for donations to build a church of atonement, and the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur was then built at the highest point in Paris, Montmartre, between 1873 and 1914.
As far as style is concerned, the basilica is a conglomeration of the most varied styles and periods – Neo-Romanesque, Byzantine, and Moorish, with a hint of Taj Mahal and Renaissance. From the dome there is a breathtaking view across the sea of houses that is Paris.
Inside there is a huge mosaic depicting Jesus as the Judge of the Worlds – intended as a warning to agitators against the Roman Catholic church after 1789 and the Commune Movement of 1871.
For the main stream of visitors the monumental steps in front of the church and the Square Willette are the preferred route to and from the Sacré-Coeur; parallel to this there is also a funicular railway (funiculaire; the Métro ticket can be used). After the descent you can look around the fabric shops around the Halle Saint-Pierre*or visit the Musée d’Art Naïf Max Fourny, which has an important collection of Naive art, and is also located in this former market hall.
If you now take Rue Tardieu and the continuation along Rue Yvonne Le Tac, 300 meters farther west, you will find – after passing the Chapelle du Martyre, which commemorates the martyr’s death of Saint Denis in 250 A.D. – one of the most beautiful Métro entrances of Paris: Station Abbesses. With its art nouveau style ornamentation it perfectly blends in with the Place des Abbesses, a square shaded with plane trees. The elegant art nouveau style church nearby, Saint-Jean-l’Évangeliste catches the eye with its attractive mosaics.
The descent from Sacré-Coeur by way of the north side of the hill to the Métro station Lamarck-Caulaincourt offers more variety of sights than the standard route. This way you pass the xMusée de Montmartre , with memorabilia of old Montmartre and its artists and windmills. The little museum is located in one of the oldest, completely preserved dwelling houses on the hill, a country seat dating from the 17th century.
The Maison rose was one of those early motifs with which Maurice Utrillo began his painting career in Montmartre. The picture was sold in 1919 for 1000 Francs, a huge sum for an unknown artist. Utrillo became famous and also the forerunner of the Montmartre artists. His works hang today in the greatest museums of the world.
From here Rue des Saules leads steeply down past the last vineyard - (vignes) of Montmartre, where on the first Saturday in October every year the vintage is celebtrated with a public festival. Unfortunately the slope with about 3000 vines faces north, a fact not particularly favourable for the sweetness of the grapes. The Clos de Montmartre is thus rather a sour curiosity among wines today.
Au Lapin Agile
Below the Montmartre vineyard in the Rue des Saules there is an old guinguette, a garden restaurant dating from 1860: the Lapin Agile. This is one of the few remaining meeting places of the Bohemian art world of the 19th and early 20th centuries where you can still hear performances of chansons.
Its previous names, Au rendezvous des voleurs ("Robbers' Rendezvous") and Cabaret aux assassins ("Cabaret with Murders") were not exactly inviting to potential guests. The establishment was named "The Nimble Rabbit" in 1886 when André Gill painted a picture, a copy of which still decorates the façade: a cheerful-looking rabbit, which although it already has one foot in the pot, just escapes its fate, with a glass of wine in its hand. (The original is in the Musée de Montmartre. Until about 1914 the Montmartre artists gathered here – at first poets such as Verlaine and painters such as Renoir. After 1904 however, it became increasingly a haunt of the young avantgardists who gathered around Picasso, Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire. The proprietor of the time “Frédé” sang chansons with all his heart, and the regular clientèle listened, sitting under a picture of the crucifixion of Christ which still hangs here today.
Continuing northwards for about 250 meters along Rue des Saules you come to the Métro station Lamarck-Caulaincourt.
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