Explore Paris’s once Bohemian quarter
It is many years since Montmartre epitomised Bohemian Paris. Nowadays it is essentially a residential quarter, dominated by the vast Sacné-Coeur, with a hectic bustle of street artists and trendy little restaurants catering for tens of thousands of visitors. Start Metro Abbesses, which has a fine Art Nouveau glass and wrought-iron entrance. On place des Abbesses, 1 the Eglise de Saint-Jean-I’Evangeliste, an early reinforced concrete construction, is known locally as ‘Saint-Jean des-Briques’. Nearby the crypt of 2 the Chapelle des Auxiliatrices du Purgatoire, 11-12 rue Yvonne-le-Tac, is supposed to be the site where France’s patron saint, Saint-Denis, was beheaded in 250 AD, giving Montmartre its original name Mont des Martyrs (Martyrs’ Mount).
From square Willette, a 225-step staircase (or a funicular for the faint-hearted) scales the Butte to 3 the Basilique de Sacré-Coeur. This familiar Byzantine wedding cake landmark is less attractive close up, but the view from the dome is stupendous. Built by public subscription after the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870, it dwarfs its 900-year-old neighbour, the Eglise de Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre 4, one of the city’s few remaining Romanesque churches. Once part of a huge abbey complex, Saint-Pierre’s medieval architects incorporated four Roman columns in the design, probably left over from an ancient Roman temple in the days when the area was deemed the Mountain of Mercury.
Montmartre’s old village square, 5 place du Tertre, would be a delightful spot were it not heaving with tourists, abysmal artists, and harried waiters flying across the street, trays in hand. If you like accordian music, try Au Cadet de Gascogne, 4 place du Tertre. Just around the corner, 6 place du Calvaire offers more glamorous views of the city. Follow rue Poulbot, and take a look down rue Saint-Rustique, a pretty 17thC cobbled street with views back to Sacné-Coeur. On the corner, 7 A La Bonne Franquette was the model for Van Gogh’s La Guinguette. Utrillo immortalized 8 the Pink House, on the corner of rue de l’Abreuvoir, and stayed at 12 rue Cortot, as did Renoir and Dufy. It now houses 9 the little Musee de Montmartre et Jardins Renoir
On rue des Saules, 10 Le Clos Montmartre, a tiny vineyard planted in the 1930s, recalls the area’s vinegrowing history; while behind the green shutters of 11 Le Cabaret au Lapin Agile, a former Bohemian nightclub (www.au-lapin-agile.com) haunted by artists including Picasso, nostalgic audiences gather for evenings of French ballads sung by traditional chansonniers.
Utrillo is buried in the Cimetiere de Saint-Vincent 12, and Metro Lamarck-Caulaincourt is just north of here. To complete a circuit, you can wend downhill on rue Girardon towards 13 Moulin de la Galette, as portrayed by Renoir, one of just two windmills remaining from the dozens which used to dot the hillside. Then turn east on rue Lepic and return to place des Abbesses. Or, head west (off the map) on Lepic and rue Joseph-de-Maistre, then south on rue Caulaincourt and enjoy a peaceful stroll around the Cimétiere de Montmartre. Further south, Toulouse-Lautrec once painted the showgirls at the Moulin Rouge on seedy place Blanche (Métro); and place Pigalle is the present-day bosom of Montmartre’s low life.
Find more in: Culture treasure troves