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Bohemians and Martyrs

Domoes of Sacre Coeur photoIn the most recent Woody Allen movie “Paris at Midnight” which has become a surprise hit, audiences come out feeling like they’ve taken a vacation to Paris. The explores the romantic yearning that life was better in an earlier time, with a young author wandering the streets of Pairs, taken back to the Paris of the 1920s, when writers and artists gathered at the salons of Gertrude Stein and the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald mingled with Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, and taken back to even earlier romantic eras.

Basilica Sacre Coeur Chuch on Montmartre Hill photoMuch of the movie was filmed around Montmarte, the famous district crowned by the beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Sacré Coeur. Though now a major tourist area and in the heart of the city, crowded with restaurants and shop Montmartre was once a bare steep butte above the city where during the Siege of Paris by Henry IV (see Nogent Sur Seine) in 1590 the vantage was used an artillery position to bombard the city, and again by the Russians during their occupation of Paris after the defeats of Napoleon in 1814 (see Arc de Triomphe). The hill gets its name Mountain of the Martyr, as it was the reputed spot where St Denis, the patron saint of Paris, was beheaded. As a district outside the tax zone of the City of Paris in the 18th Century, it attracted drinking and baudy establishments. In the mid-19th Century Impressionist artists like Camille Pissaro came to Montmatre for the cheap rents for their studios.

After the disastrous defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 (see Bourbaki Panorama Lucerne) and the brief rise of the Paris Commune, that experiment in French socialism of workers rule following the theoretical ideas of Karl Marx (see Chethams Library Manchester) mixed with the resurgence of the French revolutionary spirit which ended in 1871 with the bombardment of tunnels under the Montemartre hill where the forces of the Army of the Versailles sealed the fate of the workers movement and brought on the Third Republic.

Sacre Coeur

Warhorse on Sacre Coeur photoThe inspiration for the magnificent church on the top of the martyr’s hill came from the devastations of war and the bloody end of the Communards. Built beginning in 1876 and completed in 1912, the Catholic church of the Sacred Heart was originally dedicated to honor of 58,000 dead in the Franco-Prussian War, though by decree of the National Assembly in 2010, now also acknowledges the fate of the Commune. The Basilica of Sacre Coeur is built of a special travertine stone from the Seine-et-Marne region (see WWII Cemeteries of Seine-Marne) of a calcite that bleaches a natural white color resisting corrosion. The church gets its name from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The unique design with its pointed domes takes inspiration from the Byzantine style and neo-Romanesque, a reaction of the Baroque revival excesses of Baron Haussman’s rebuilding of Paris under Louis Napoleon.

As gleaming as is the outside, inside the Sacre-Coeur can be a little gloomy inside depending on the angle of the sun for its lack of large windows, but adorned with some beautiful art. The gold and blue mosaic of the apse, one of the world's largest, presents the images of Christ in Majesty and the The Sacred Heart worshiped by the Virgin Mary, Joan of Arc and St. Michael the Archangel, designed by Luc-Olivier Merson, added after the basilica’s completion in 1922. Eleven arches support the barrel vault of the choir and the sculpted altar of bronze is a reflection of the altar in the ruins of Cluny Abbey in Burgundy (see Abbey Cluny). A climb to the dome of Sacre Coeur offers the second highest viewpoint of Paris, just short of the top level of the Eiffel Tower (see Eiffel Tower). The Crypt below holds statues of saints and a reliquary.

Visiting Sacre Coeur Montmartre

Carousel at Montmartre photoThe Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, still a place of pilgrimmage and adoration, is open daily from 6 am to 11 pm. Admission to the church is free, though to climb to the dome or go down to the crypt requires an admission of €5. Photography is not allowed in the church. A funicular rail, the Funiculaire de Montmartre, reaches the hill from the south while the Montmartre Bus circles the neighborhood above. For a bit of an exercise challenge, climb the steps up the Mount of Martyrs past the sunbathing Parisians on the grassy slopes. At the bottom is a fountain and carousel. At the top follow the signs to Place du Tetre for the cafes, where fledgling artists have been drawing caricature portraits of tourists for a few handy sous since the days of Modigliani. On the Boulevard de Clichy you can find the Moulin Rouge, were they still dance the Can-Can two shows a night, and maybe bump into the ghost of Toulouse Lautrec sketching in charcoal. © Bargain Travel Europe 

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