Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 38 Montmartre is our neighbourhood

Montmartre is officially designated as an historic district with limited development allowed in order to maintain its historic character. Montmartre is the artists' and bohemian quarter of the capital and is situated in the 18th arrondissemont or district of Paris, France.

Place du Tertre which is the place of artists and the vibrant heart of Montmartre, is in close proximity to the Basillica of Sacre Coeur, itself the crown on the hill or 'Butte Montmartre'.

One of the most unusual places in Paris, was imagined and created by the artists at the end of the 1940's. It grew into a large open air studio which has now become one of the most visited sites in Paris. The creation of an original painting or piece of art before your eyes is one of the principal attractions of the 'Butte Montmarte'.

Montmartre, a hill (the butte Montmartre) is 130 metres high and it gives its name to the surrounding district, in this north end of Paris which is part of the Right Bank. Montmartre is primarily known for the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré Cœur which Christine and I visited when we were last here in 2002. Then we stayed in a small hotel nearby. This is a nightclub district. There is another older church on the hill which is Saint Pierre de Montmartre, which claims to be the location at which the Jesuit order of priests was founded. During one stage in its history, many artists such as Salvador Dalí, Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh retained studios or worked around the community of Montmartre. Montmartre is also the setting for the hit films of La Môme, which elaborates the life of famous French singer Edith Piaf and her times in the slums of Paris, and Amélie, the story of a young Parisian woman determined to help the lives of others and find her true love.

The name Montmartre signifies 'mountain of the martyr' and it owes this name to the martyrdom of Saint Denis, who was decapitated on the hill around 250 AD. Saint Denis was the Bishop of Paris and is the patron saint of France.

During the 19th century when Napoleon III and his city planner Baron Haussmann planned to make Paris the most beautiful city in Europe, a first step was to grant large sweeps of land near the center of the city to Haussmann's friends and financial supporters. This drove the original inhabitants to the edges of the city — to the districts of Clichy, La Villette, and the hill with a view of the city, Montmartre. Russians occupied Montmartre when invading Paris. They used the altitude of the hill for artillery bombardment of the city.

Since Montmartre was outside the city limits, free of Paris taxes and no doubt also due to the fact that the local nuns made wine, the hill quickly became a popular drinking area. The area developed into a center of free-wheeling and decadent entertainment at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. In the popular cabaret the Moulin Rouge, and at Le Chat Noir, artists, singers and performers regularly. The Basilica of the Sacré Cœur was built on Montmartre from 1876 to 1912 by public subscription as a gesture of expiation of the "crimes of the communards", after the Paris Commune events, and to honour the French victims of the 1871 Franco-Prussian War. Its white dome is a highly visible landmark in the city, and just below it artists still set up their easels each day amidst the tables and colorful umbrellas of Place du Tertre.

In the mid-1800s artists, such as Johan Jongkind and Camille Pissarro, came to live in Montmartre. (It is Pissaro's painting of the area)By the end of the century, Montmartre and its counterpart on the Left Bank, Montparnasse, became the principal artistic centers of Paris. Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and other impoverished artists lived and worked in a commune, a building called Le Bateau-Lavoir during the years 1904–1909. Artist associations such as Les Nabis and the Incoherents were formed and individuals including Vincent van Gogh, Pierre Brissaud, Alfred Jarry, Gen Paul, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Suzanne Valadon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Maurice Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Steinlen, and African-American "expatriates" such as Langston Hughes worked in Montmartre and drew some of their inspiration from the area. Composers, including Satie (who was a pianist at Le Chat Noir), also lived in the area. The last of the bohemian Montmartre artists was Gen Paul (1895–1975), born in Montmartre and a friend of Utrillo. Paul's calligraphic expressionist lithographs, sometimes memorializing picturesque Montmartre itself, owe a lot to Raoul Dufy.

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