With its quaint cafes and small streets, Paris may be the city of love. More importantly, though, it is the city of history and culture.
Latin Quarter Montmartre
The Latin Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in Paris. Today, a mix between modern and medieval architecture, the neighborhood houses plenty of quaint cafes and restaurants. It is also known as the student district of Paris, as it features many prominent schools, most notably the High School Henri IV and the University Sorbonne.
[Stop 1] On top of the hill in the Latin Quarter stands the Pantheon. The start of its construction began in 1758 by King Louis XV, who had promised to build a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve if he managed to overcome a serious illness. By the time that the church was completed, it was after the French Revolution and it was decided that the building will be used as a mausoleum. It went back an forth between a mausoleum and an actual church several times until 1881, when it was officially decreed that it will serve as a mausoleum.
Initially, this hill was topped by a smaller Christian Basilica, built by Clovis, the first king of the Francs, for his wife Clotilde. During his time as king, Clovis often had to defend the city from outsiders. The story goes that during this time, Attila had his sights on the city. The citizens were in panic until Genevieve convinced them that the best decision is to pray. The city prayed for days until Attila came to take the city and noticed the large number of people lined up on the fortress. He then decided that the military was too large to take on and left without attacking. It is said that Genevieve saved the city and became the city's saint upon her death. For this reason, Genevieve was buried with Clovis and Clotilde.
The pantheon is dedicated to all the French people who fought for their country and who helped guide it forward. The main level depicts various scenes of Genevieve's life as well as those from other notable French heroes, such as Joan of Arc. In the crypt, many of these French heroes are laid to rest.
In the middle of the Pantheon's Greek cross layout is Foucault's pendulum, that proves that the Earth is constantly rotating on itself.
The structure of this building was very carefully calculated to ensure that it would be able to support the dome. The dome just above the pendulum actually consists of three domes in order to improve its stability.
When the Pantheon officially became a mausoleum, the main floor windows were taken out to promote a more somber mood. Unfortunately, without that ventilation, a lot of moisture remains in the building causing it to rust faster. As a result, all the metal components in the dome have to be cleaned and repaired every few years to maintain its structural integrity.
One of the most famous French heroes in the Pantheon crypt is Voltaire, who is famous in France for his writings on human freedoms that inspired the Enlightenment.
The inscription on his tomb: "He won over the atheists as well as the religious. He inspired tolerance. He demanded the rights of man against the slavery that is feudalism."
Next to Voltaire rests Jacques-Germain Soufflot, the architect of the building. He is also known for having built l'Hotel-Dieu in Lyon. (Feel free to read more about that in the Lyon post.)
Ironically, across from Voltaire rests Rousseau. While Voltaire and Rousseau were both very influential thinkers that greatly influenced the Enlightenment, they did not get along because they were essentially competitors. Now they are both forced to spend eternity in the same room facing each other.
The first woman to ever be entered in the Pantheon is Marie Currie, along with her husband. Today, the Pantheon features 73 men and 5 women.
The most recent woman to be laid to rest in the Pantheon is Simone Veil, who was a very strong advocate for women's rights as well as other general freedoms.
Many of France's prominent writers are laid to rest in this crypt.
[Stop 2] Sorbonne's school of law faces the Pantheon. Its entrance is just around the corner and, while most of the university is closed to the public after the terrorist attacks in 2015, the law faculty is less stringent making it sometimes possible to take a peek inside.
[Stop 3] On the other side is the Sorbonne's main building. Halfway down the building, there is a green dome that is visible. That is the university's observatory.
[Stop 4] Facing the Luxembourg gardens is the university church. Because the university was originally a theological school, it had its own church. This church is not open to the public and it is kept for historical reasons.
The building is not original to the university. During the 17th century, Cardinal Richelieu ordered the reconstruction of the entire university, including the chapel. The reconstruction was done by Jacques Lemercier and includes many references to the Cardinal. Notably, above the door is a high relief sculpture. It depicts Truth on the left and Science on the right staring at the Cardinal's coat of arms topped by the ducal crown and the cardinal hat. The statues that fill the four niches were placed later in the 19th century.
[Stop 5] Thanks to the democratization of education, the 19th century saw a drastic increase in student population. As a result, the Sorbonne was again rebuilt at the end of the 19th century to increase the capacity of the university. The chapel is the only building that remains from the Richelieu reconstruction.
[Stop 6] Across from the Sorbonne is the Cluny Museum, National Museum of the Middle Ages. It features many pieces from the Middle Ages, most notably a lot of tapestries. One of its most famous works of art is
The Lady and the Unicorn
. It is said to represent the five senses ...and yet there are six panels. Art historians are still debating what the sixth sense is.
To the left of the Sorbonne is the College de France. Founded in 1530 by King Francis I to teach subjects not taught at the Sorbonne such as Hebrew and mathematics, the College de France is today one of Europe's leading research institutions. Its motto is
Docet omnia, meaning "teaches all". The goal of the institution is not to give out degrees but to make knowledge accessible to society.
[Stop 7] The College de France offers free lectures throughout the year, given by leading professionals in their fields. Here's the
to the upcoming lectures.
[Stop 8] The
Museum of the police is located on the top floor.
[Stop 9] In the late 1800s, Georges-Eugène Haussmann completely redesigned Paris' architecture and infrastructure. His goal was to make all of the city's facades uniform and to widen the streets to prevent protests and barricades. In the 5th district, you can witness the stark contrast between the medieval architecture (right) and the new Hausmann-style (left).
The difference of the two eras is also highlighted by the way the streets are formed. Before there was a modern sewage system, waste was thrown on to the street and evacuated (more or less) by the gutter running in the middle of the street. Once the modern sewers were built, the streets were built to curl up in the middle to guide the water to the sewers under the sidewalks on the side.
This is a typical example of Hausmann-styled buildings that make up modern Paris. Typically, the second floor, with the largest balconies were the most expensive apartments. Because most Parisian apartments still lack elevators, even to this day, living on the second floor allows for the most amount of privacy with the least amount of stairs. The higher up the apartment, the cheaper it is. The last floor is typically called the servants quarters as that is where the servants of the various apartments would stay. Typically, they have very small rooms with a shared bathroom. They also typically have servant stairs that lead to their floor so they can enter their master's apartment without being seen and without disturbing the family and their guests.
[Stop 10] The first ever French school is said to have been held here. Because at the time, there were no specific buildings dedicated to education, students would simply grab a hay bale to use as a seat and would listen to the teacher speaking from the second story window. The name of the street is "Rue du Fouarre", which means Hay Bale Street in old French.
[Stop 11] After the Second World War, many American expats stayed in France. To feel more at home, they set up jazz clubs. To this day, there are multiple jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter.
[Stop 12] Next to the theater is one of the oldest churches in Paris : Church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. Built in the 13th century, the church is a perfect example of the Romanesque style and a great contrast to the Gothic Notre Dame just across the river.
If you need a break before proceeding to Notre Dame (left), I suggest grabbing a coffee and a choux from Odette (right)
Located in Square René Viviani, this tree the oldest tree in Paris. The Robinia pseudoacacia was said to be planted by Jean Robin in 1601.
[Stop 13] In 1919, Sylvia Beach founded a bookshop for anglophones in the 5th district and became the gather place for many English-speaking writers. In 1941, the bookshop was closed by the Germans. Ten years later, George Whitman opened up a bookstore for anglophones, again in the 5th district, though not in the same location. After Sylvia Beach's death and on the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare, George Whitman renamed the bookstore to Shakespeare and Company in her honor. George Whitman often described his bookshop as a
“socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.”
Today, his daughter, Sylvia Whitman, who was named after Sylvia Beach, runs the store.
[Stop 14] Near Shakespeare and Company is the smallest street in Paris. It gives an idea of how tight many streets in the past were. Take the street to the other side to head over to Notre Dame.
[Stop 15] At the end of the tunnel, across the street, you will see the Police Prefecture. Originally built as barracks for the Republican Guard in the 1860s, the building now houses the headquarters of the police.
To the left of the bridge at the end of the island, you will find the
, or "New Bridge". Today the oldest bridge in Paris, it was the first bridge to be built in stone (as opposed to wood). It was also the first bridge (and road for that matter) to feature sidewalks, allowing pedestrians to avoid walking next to the muddy carriages. Not only that, but it was the first bridge to
feature houses, as was the custom in the Middle Ages.
To the right is Notre Dame de Paris.
[Stop 16] Once featuring a proud spire above the transept and nave crossing, the Notre Dame de Paris is currently under construction due to the unfortunate fire of April 15th, 2019. At top this spire there was a metal rooster that housed three religious relics from the Crown of Thorns and the two patron saints of the city, Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve. The idea was to draw all the positive energy of the heavens to protect the churchgoers.
April 15th 2019 was not the first time that the cathedral suffered destruction. In 1793, a year after King Louis XVI was decapitated, 28 of the biblical king statues also lost their heads at the hands of the people. The cathedral was left to its own defenses, leading to a rapid deterioration. When Napoleon assumed power, the church was in rather terrible condition. The to-be Emperor ordered that the cathedral be cleaned up to serve as the backdrop of his infamous self-coronation in 1804.
Twenty seven years later, Victor Hugo published the novel
Notre Dame de Paris using the cathedral as a metaphor for France. Thanks to his book, funds were raised to begin a significant restoration effort in 1843. The restoration effort was completed in 1864 by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, who took quite a bit of creative liberties during the process. Most notably, he added the gargoyles at the top and the spire, which has now burned down. This was the second wooden spire that the cathedral has had in its history.
Having only become a Parisian district in 1860, Montmartre has a very unique history and community. With its roots in working class and artistic communities, Montmartre is very lively and open minded. Come stroll through the winding, colorful streets of Montmartre and enjoy a drink with a birds-eye view of Paris and surrounded by street artists.
[Stop 1] Created in 1889, the Moulin Rouge is emblematic of the neighborhood of Montmartre. Creator of the French Can Can, the Moulin Rouge embodies the fun and care-free attitude of the community. In 2014, the Moulin Rouge was awarded the
Guinness Would Record
of the most number of over the head kicks (29) in 30 seconds. The record was attained by 44 performers who performed the kicks in a Can Can line.
Today, the show presented is called
Ferie. Ever since 1963, following the huge success of the Frou Frou show, all the names of the shows begin with the letter "F", in order to ensure that the show would be a success.
Being an open-minded neighborhood accepting people with all of their difference, Montmartre was the ideal refuge for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a noble man with significant physical malformations. Likely du to inbreeding, Toulouse-Lautrec suffered from pycnodysostosis, leading to short extremities and a large nose. Additionally, Toulouse-Lautrec lived with a lisp. Having failed at the Bac (similar to the SAT in the United States), Toulouse-Lautrec, depicted in the top left, decided that he wanted to be a painter. He moved to Montmartre where he spent most of his adult life. To this day, he is one of the most famous painters of Montmartre life. Toulouse-Lautrec is also largely credited with popularizing the Moulin Rouge thanks to his paintings.
[Stop 2] Café des Deux Moulins was made popular in 2001 after the movie
Amélie, partially shot at this location, premiered. The name of the café comes from the fact that it is located between the Moulin Rouge and the Moulin de la Galette.
[Stop 3] In the same neighborhood is located the apartment in which Vincent van Gogh's brother, Theo, lived. When Vincent van Gogh's was in Paris, he stayed with his brother in this apartment.
[Stop 4] Looking up Rue Tholozé, we get a glimpse of one of the two original wind mills of the neighborhood. Before developing into this free-spirited, artistic neighborhood, Montmartre was originally a working people's neighborhood. On this hill, there were once a dozen wind mills. The first one is believed to have been built at the end of the 16th century. This one,
Le Moulin Blute-Fin, was built in 1622.
An example of the fun nature of this artistic neighborhood
[Stop 5] Every year since 1994, a competition is held to determine which Parisian bakery has the best baguette. The winner not only wins a small monetary prize but also becomes the official supplier of baguette to the Élysée for that year. The Grenier à Pain has won twice--in 2010 and 2015--and let me tell you, it is well-deserved!
[Stop 6] As a neighborhood that parties hard, brunch is an absolute necessity. Montmartre residents enjoy going out to terraces and having brunch with friends.
[Stop 7] If you are feeling a bit tired from the climb or simply want to enjoy the overhead view of the city, take a seat at the
Relais de la Butte
. The service is very friendly, the food is tasty and the view is great!
If you get lucky, a group of friends might sit down on the steps behind the restaurant and start jamming out and enjoying each other’s company.
P.S. The gold dome in the distance is Invalides.
[Stop 8] The Bateau-Lavoir is famous for the role it played in bringing together creative minds. At the end of the 19th century, the building was split into twenty workshop apartments. Many now-famous individuals spent years in this building exchanging points of view. One of the most famous is Picasso.
If creatives spent time in this building, it was absolutely not for the building's comfort. The building actually had no heating or cooling and had only one source of water.
There are several theories--because of the way it creaked during storms, because the narrow winding hallway, because the laundry hanging out to dry--as to how the building got its name but they all agree that it was Max Jacob who first coined the name.
[Stop 9] Yolanda Cristina Gigliotti, better known as Dalida, lived in this Montmartre house for most of her time in France. Born in Egypt to Italian parents, Dalida moved to Paris shortly after becoming Miss Egypt in 1954. She bought this house in 192, where she died 25 years later by suicide.
The plaque reads : "She will never be forgotten by her Montmartre friends". Residents of the neighborhood refuse the notion that Montmartre is part of Paris and are proud of their unique culture.
One tragic fact is that three of her four serious partners also committed suicide. Thankfully, only Luigi Tenco committed suicide while they were still together, leading to Dalida's first suicide attempt in 1967
[Stop 10] Right around the corner of Dalida's house is the
Moulin de la Galette
. The windmill above the restaurant, called
, is the second original windmill on Montmartre that remains. The pair--Le Radet and Le Blute-Fin--make up the Moulin de la Galette.
While this windmill originally crushed iris bulbs to create perfumes, the farm was transformed into cabaret in 1834, gathering many famous painters. There exist many famous paintings of the Moulin de la Galette but the most famous one is Renoir's
Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette, now painted on the façade of the restaurant.
[Stop 11] This odd sculpture is located on Marcel Ayme Square. In 1989, Jean Marais created this sculpture to depict the short story of
le Passe-Muraille, the man who could walk through walls ...until he couldn't. The story was written by Marcel Ayme, who's face is also depicted as the face of the main character.
[Stop12] The statue of Saint Denis, one of the three patron saints of Paris, is located in Square Suzanne Buisson. The legend goes that Saint Denis was sent by the pope to what would one day become France, with the goal of converting the residents to convert to Christianity.
The Roman Emperor did not like the popularity that Christianity received in the region and started beheading Christians. These Christians were being executed outside of the city walls of the time on a hill that would become known as the "Mount of Martyrs", i.e. Montmartre.
What was special about this beheading though was that Saint Denis is said to have picked up his head and walked 6km, all while continuing to pray, until he reached the place where he wanted to be buried.
[Stop 13] Inaugurated 10 years after her death, this bust is a reminder of the profound impact that Dalida had on the Montmartre community and on Paris as a whole.
The chest is a different color due to the fact that many tourists rub it for luck in love but honestly, that's very likely just an excuse 😉
Allée des Brouillards, or Alley of fog, sounds very mysterious but it likely comes from the fog created by water coming to the surface.
This is likely one of the most photographs streets of Montmartre, due to its romantic cobblestone street and moss-covered buildings.
[Stop 14] Often referred to as the eagle house because of the eagles guarding the door, the house was built in 1924 for Henry Lachouque, a WWI veteran obsessed with Napoleon's history. The house was once filled with many objects that Napoleon once possessed and its owner was considered an expert in Napoleonic history.
One particularity about this house is the sundial, which reads
Quand tu sonnes, je chanterai (or in English: "We you ring, I will sing"). The "N" in "Quand" however is reversed. There is some speculation that it relates to the Cyrillic alphabet, potentially referring to the defeat of Napoleon at the hands of the Russians. ...though there is no evidence of this.
La Maison Rose, i.e. the Pink house, has become an iconic part of the Montmartre hill. While the neighborhood changed around it, La Maison Rose has maintained it spot on the hill since the mid-19th century, before Montmartre was even a part of Paris. Serving coffee since its beginnings, the Maison Rose was officially colored and named so around 1920 after Laure Germaine and husband bought the home in 1905.
[Stop 16] The history of grape vines and wine making on the Montmartre hill dates back to the 10th century. During the 17th century, as much as three quarters of the hill was covered in vineyards. At the end of the 18th century however, a series of events caused the decline of the wine making tradition on the hill. Most of the vineyards were replaced with houses after Montmartre was officially annexed into Paris in 1830. This vineyard also became bare until 1921, when the government decided that it would be the location of an affordable housing project. The residents petitioned the project, not wanting to see the last of their wine making heritage erased. In 1933, the vineyard was replanted and the following year was the first year of the Festival of Wine at Montmartre.
[Stop 17] Neighboring the vineyard is the small cabaret name
Le Lapin Agile
. Opened in 1860, the cabaret is one of the oldest in Paris and, as many other historic locations in Montmartre, was often frequented by very well-known painters, such as Picasso.
It is said that the owner accepted artwork as a means of payment if a patron could not pay. One of the paintings the owner received from Picasso was sold by the former for around 20 dollars in 1912 and later in 1989 for
41 million dollars.
The name of the cabaret actually comes from this painting. Around 1875, the owner asked caricaturist André Gill to create a logo for the cabaret. The painting of the bunny jumping out of the pot became known as "Le Lapin à Gill" (i.e. Gill's rabbit), which later became "Le Lapin Agile" (i.e. The nimble rabbit).
[Stop 18] Finally, the world famous Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Planned in 1870, the Basilica was said to be a penance for all the sins of the country that led to losses such as the defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.
It should however be known that, during this time, the power of religion was waning and the population was becoming more and more secular. In Montmartre in particular, there were very few churches and the residents were not especially religious. The Basilica was thus viewed by the local residents as the Church attempting to force religion down their throats. Its prominent location atop a hill visible from almost every corner of Paris definitely supports the idea that religion is very important and should be revered.
That being said, in true Montmartre spirit, the steps of the Basilica are today a popular location to start an evening with friends and a couple bottles of beer. To get a good view of the beautiful basilica that draws in millions of tourists every year, try viewing it from the Square Marcel Bleustein Blanchet to take it all in and avoid the tourist masses.