Montmartre, Paris, is a bit of a rock star as far as Parisian towns go. Attractive and famous with a rebellious past, it lured me, I admit, because it was the setting for the movie Amelie. However, a visit with my local friend Carole revealed a very different world (unsurprisingly) than the one created by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Situated about three kilometres from Paris’ city centre, Montmartre is a place that’s witnessed many events during its relatively short life. Firstly, its name translates to “mountain of the martyr”, named after the martyrdom of Saint Denis, the Bishop of Paris and patron saint of France who was decapitated on the town’s 130-metre-high hill around 250 AD.
During the 19th Century, Montmartre, Paris, was free from taxes as it was declared outside the city limits. It was also home to a flock of wine making nuns, and both factors contributed to the town hill being the scene of numerous Parisian parties.
Here artists from the nearby Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir came to drink and cavort. Soon, however, the hill became home to the town’s famous Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, built from 1876 to 1912. The grand Basilica was built, in part, to honour French victims of the 1871 Franco-Prussian War.
Upon wandering about town, there were a few things that caught my eye. The odd windmill and a small vineyard that lay between cobblestone lanes, leafy backstreet walks that meandered amongst quaint houses. Then there was the comely feel of damp amidst affluence, and the alluring cafes on hidden corners.
Wandering further, one could visit the quarters of artists such as Pablo Picasso (who lived here from 1904 to 1909), Salvador Dali, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, all who resided in town at one time or another. It’s not hard to imagine that Montmartre, Paris, provided much of their inspiration. It’s a beguiling town that’s officially designated “historic” in order to preserve its worth.
Of course I had to squeeze in time for my Amelie tour, which my friend Carole (understandably) thought was rather amusing. Here I visited Café des Deux Moulins, the café where Amelie worked, Mr Collignon’s fruit shop, the lookout where Nino ran up the stairs, and the metro station where Amelie chased after Nino.
An added bonus was that Carole worked in administration at the Moulin Rouge, just around the corner from the Café des Deux Moulins. It’s alleged to be a shadow of its former self, but I got to see a free show (which I enjoyed), while before the event I was given a backstage tour, where I spied the girls’ wardrobe along with numerous props.
All this aside, Montmartre, Paris, is just a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by with a café noir.