Monday, May 21, 2012


Montmartre is the name of the highest hill in ParisFrance. It is also the name of one of the city’s most famous neighborhoods. Its summit is 420 feet (130 meters) above the rest of the city. The name means “Martyr’s Mountain.” It is called this because Denis, a bishop of Paris and Roman Catholic saint, was murdered on the hill in the year 250.

People first started building on the hill in the 1100s. Tradition says a church building at the top of the hill, once dedicated to St. Denis but now lost, is the place where the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) got started. The Society of Jesus remains an important and famous order of Roman Catholic monks and priests. It was started by Ignatius of Loyola (Spain) and friends in 1534.

Today the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart of Jesus) dominates the summit of Montmartre. It is about 3 miles (5 km) north of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Construction of Sacre Coeur started in 1875 and wasn’t completed until 1914. Its construction was meant to speak forever about the victory of Church and Emperor over the very different spirit of the Paris Commune of 1871.

Many people in Paris enjoyed what is called “La Belle Epoque” (“The Beautiful Time”) between 1889 and 1914. For these people, this was a time of peace, prosperity, and optimism. It was the time when Paris enjoyed its greatest years as the capital of a large empire. It also enjoyed being a center of fast change in technology. Technological changes included cars, telephones, electric lights, movies, and even the idea that diseases are caused by germs.

Paris during the Beautiful Time also enjoyed great artistic creativity. This creativity centered in Monmartre. So, just as Sacre Coeur was being built as a monument to no change, artists expressing great change were hard at work in a neighborhood that was still cheap, noisy, and crowded.

Poor unknown painters of Montmartre at this time, who later became very famous, included Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Piet Mondrian, Henri Matisse, Camille Pissarro, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Musicians who also later became famous included Jane Avril, Claude Debussy, and Eric Satie.

All of these painters and musicians enjoyed mutual support and inspiration by meeting at two cabarets of Montmartre. Like the artists they supported, these two restaurants started poor and unknown but ended up being famous to this day. The first was Le Chat Noir (Black Cat, opened 1881). The second was the Moulin Rouge (Red Mill, opened 1889).

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.