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Paris - Around Town : Montmartre and Pigalle (part 1)

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Painters and poets, from Picasso to Apollinaire, put the “art” in Montmartre, and it will forever be associated with their Bohemian lifestyles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are plenty of artists around today too, painting quick-fire portraits of tourists in the place du Tertre. The area’s name comes from “Mount of Martyrs”, commemorating the first bishop of Paris, St Denis, who was decapitated here by the Romans in AD 250. Parisians, however, call it the “Butte” (knoll) as it is the highest point in the city. Throngs of tourists climb the hill for the stupendous view from Sacré-Coeur, crowding the main square, but you can still discover Montmartre’s charms along the winding back streets, small squares and terraces. Below the hill, Pigalle, once home to dance halls and cabarets, has largely been taken over by sleazy sex shows along the boulevard de Clichy.

The Montmartre Vineyards

It’s hard to imagine it today, but Montmartre was once a French wine region said to match the quality of Bordeaux and Burgundy. There were 20,000 ha (50,000 acres) of Parisian vineyards in the mid-18th century, but today just 1,000 bottles of wine are made annually from the remaining 2,000 vines in Montmartre, and sold for charity.


Street art, Montmartre

Place Pigalle

Sights
  1. Sacré-Coeur

    Sacré-Coeur
  2. Espace Montmartre Salvador Dalí

    The Dalí works here may not be the artist’s most famous or best, but this museum is still a must for any fan of the Spanish Surrealist (see Salvador Dalí). More than 300 of his drawings and sculptures are on display amid high-tech light and sound effects, including Dalí’s voice, which create a “surreal” atmosphere. There are also bronzes of his memorable “fluid” clocks .

    Salvador Dalí
  3. Musée de Montmartre

    The museum is set in Montmartre’s finest townhouse, known as Le Manoir de Rose de Rosimond after the 17th-century actor who once owned it. From 1875 it provided living quarters and studios for many artists. Using drawings, photographs and memorabilia, the museum presents the history of the Montmartre area, from its 12th-century convent days to the present, with an emphasis on the Bohemian lifestyle of the belle époque. There is even a re-created 19th-century bistro.

  4. Place du Tertre

    At 130 m (430 ft), Montmartre’s old village square, whose name means “hillock”, is the highest point in the city. Any picturesque charm it might once have had is now sadly hidden under the tourist-trap veneer of over-priced restaurants and portrait artists hawking their services, although the fairy lights at night are still atmospheric. No. 21 houses the Old Montmartre information office, with details about the area. Nearby is the church of St-Pierre de Montmartre, all that remains of the Benedictine abbey which stood here from 1133 until the Revolution.

  5. Cimetière de Montmartre

    The main graveyard for the district lies beneath a busy road in an old gypsum quarry, though it’s more restful than first appears when you actually get below street level. The illustrious tombs, many with ornately sculpted monuments, packed tightly into this intimate space reflect the artistic bent of the former residents, who include composers Hector Berlioz and Jacques Offenbach, writers Stendhal and Alexandre Dumas, Russian dancer Nijinsky and the film director François Truffaut.

    • 20 ave Rachel, 75018

  6. Musée de l’Erotisme

    With more than 2,000 items from around the world, this museum presents all forms of erotic art from painting, sculpture, photos and drawings to objects whose sole purpose seems to be titillation. It’s all tastefully presented, however, reflecting the sincere interest of the three collectors who founded the museum in 1997 to explore the cultural aspects of eroticism. The displays range from spiritual objects of primitive cultures to whimsical artworks.

  7. Moulin Rouge

    The Moulin Rouge (“red windmill”) is the most famous of the belle époque dance halls which scandalized respectable citizens and attracted Montmartre’s artists and Bohemians. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized the era with his sketches and posters of dancers such as Jane Avril, some of which now grace the Musée d’Orsay. Cabaret is still performed here .

  8. Au Lapin Agile

    This belle époque restaurant and cabaret was a popular hangout for Picasso, Renoir, and poets Apollinaire and Paul Verlaine. It took its name from a humorous painting by André Gill of a rabbit (lapin) leaping over a cooking pot, called the “Lapin à Gill”. In time it became known by its current name (“nimble rabbit”).

    Au Lapin Agile
  9. Place des Abbesses

    This pretty square lies at the base of the Butte, between Pigalle and the place du Tertre. Reach it via the metro station of the same name to appreciate one of the few original Art Nouveau stations left in the city. Designed by the architect Hector Guimard, it features ornate green wrought-iron arches, amber lanterns and a ship shield, the symbol of Paris, on the roof. Along with Porte Dauphine, it is the only station to retain its original glass roof. A mural painted by local artists winds around the spiral staircase at the entrance. But don’t walk to the platform, take the elevator – it’s the deepest station in Paris, with 285 steps.

  10. Moulin de la Galette

    Montmartre once had more than 30 windmills, used for pressing grapes and grinding wheat; this is one of only two still standing. During the siege of Paris in 1814 its owner, Pierre-Charles Debray, was crucified on its sails by Russian soldiers. It became a dance hall in the 19th century and inspired paintings by Renoir and Van Gogh. It is now a restaurant, but it can be admired from outside, and rue Lepic is worth a visit for its shops and restaurants.

    • 79 rue Lepic, 75018

    Moulin de la Galette
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