on September 30, 2006
Montmartre's metro stations are on the edge of the district leaving you with an uphill walk to reach the Sacre-Coeur and the main sights. We avoided walking up the daunting steps by taking the funicular from Square Willette - quick and easy way to get to the top.Every time I see the gleaming white Sacre-Coeur, right at the summit of the hill of Montmartre, it never fails to impress me. It was built between 1876 and 1914 in an ornate Byzantine style, commissioned as atonement for the 58,000 people who died in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. The basilica was hampered by problems and it was not ready until 1914. Then World War I intervened and the Parisians had to wait until 1919 for the consecration. Priests still work in relays to maintain constant prayer for forgiveness and the horrors of war.The church has a 273 foot dome. Inside, despite crowds of visitors, the atmosphere is hushed and spiritual. They have one of the world's largest mosaics, depicting Christ with outstretched arms. Photographs inside are not allowed.Outside there are big statues of Joan of Arc and St Louis guarding the entrance on horseback in sculpted bronze. The remarkably white church is not painted—its whiteness comes from a stone that secretes a white substance when it rains.Right outside the basilica is a little tourist train which travels around Montmartre and Pigalle. Our son really wanted a trip on it—we were pleasantly surprised at how informative and interesting it was. It costs around £3.50, leaves on the hour and takes around 45 minutes. The driver gives a brief commentary in English, French and Italian.We saw some interesting things, including Paris' only vineyard—very small, producing very select wines which are sold at auction for about £1,000 per bottle. The train also drove past the famous Moulin Rouge.Montmartre is worth exploring for its cobbled streets and stunning views. It was the bohemian centre of creativity during the late 19th century—immortalised in the film Moulin Rouge.The Place du Tertre is a nice little square, but it seemed like every other tourist in Paris thought so too and went at the same time. It is absolutely packed with people and has been ruined by tourism. It also teams with street artists, but we couldn't be bothered elbowing through the crowds to look at their wares. It is lined with tacky trinket shops and overpriced restaurants.Get through the crowds, and wander, as we did a little off the beaten track and you will find the real village within the city—quiet cobbled streets and whitewashed cottages—beautiful.At the bottom of the hill is the Pigalle area - a bit seedy and tacky—lots of sex shops and other such establishments. We walked along here to have a closer look at the Moulin Rouge and take some photographs. Although it is the red light area, we felt perfectly safe.
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