Strolling through Paris, in the area known as Montmartre, one can travel back in time to the most dazzling epoch of this great city.
La Bell Époque, or “The Age of Beauty”, is thought to have fallen between 1871 and the beginning of World War I in 1914.
This had been an era that saw a burst of creativity, counterculture, and Bohemianism. While the Left Bank of Paris (also known as La Rive Gauche) is still considered a cradle for artists, writers, and creativity, the other side of the Seine in the north of Paris sits on the hill known as ‘Montmartre’ and is the epicenter of “The Age of Beauty.”
Capped by the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, Montmartre became a haven for eclectic and eccentric artists, entertainers, and the business-folk who ran the shows.
Montmartre was frequented by great personalities of the day such as Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Degas, Erik Satie, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The salons and nightclubs served as classrooms or studios where discussion and experimentation flourished and the cultural restrictions of the times where ignored.
There are several sites in Montmartre that are well worth a visit:
The Moulin Rouge – This most famous cabaret was often painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and produced exotic and spectacular shows– complete with elephants. The venue still hosts a revue-style show with dancers, contortionists, acrobats, and elaborate costumes.
Le Chat Noir – This artist salon was also a popular music hall when it opened in 1881. It is famous as the meeting place of the Salon of Incoherent Arts where experimental art and entertainment forms were introduced including shadow plays and comedic monologues.
Espace Salvador-Dalí (Dalí Center) - Visitors can see a lesser-known side of the famous surrealist Dali at the Espace Dali Montmartre. On display are over 300 works from etchings to lithographs, sculptures, and even furniture.
Sacré-Coeur Basilica – Known as the “sculpted cloud” when it was finished in 1914, the Basilica is a crowning jewel sitting atop Montmartre hill. The enormous dome and the breathtaking, massive mosaic, “Christ in Majesty”, sit above the choir and are truly inspiring. There is a funicular railroad to assist you to the top.
If you are fortunate, you may hear La Savoyarde– the great 19-ton bell hanging in the Sacré-Coeur. Echoing through the cobblestone alleyways of this quaint history-laden area, this bell is one of the world’s heaviest.
Hopefully you will have plenty of time to while away the afternoon in Montmartre, climbing the stairs that double as streets, peeking into galleries, and taking in the ambience of this enchanting area of the great city of Paris.