Unravel Montmartre: A Journey Through the Bohemian Heart of Paris
May 27, 2024

Unravel Montmartre: A Journey Through the Bohemian Heart of Paris

Unravel Montmartre: A Journey Through the Bohemian Heart of Paris
Julien Mainguy

French and based in Vancouver since 2014, Julien Mainguy is the co-founder of Best of France. Passionate about the cultural difference between Canada and Europe, he is leading numerous projects to create awareness, help people grow, and bring communities together.

In the novel L’Assommoir, Zola already describes the ancient Montmartre: “the Butte Montmartre that blocked the sky, with its chalky houses, pierced with regular holes in their windows,” and lets us well imagine the living conditions to which the inhabitants were reduced. Nowadays, Montmartre is known as one of the most beautiful areas of Paris, lively and colourful. So what happened in between to that district for it to become such a magical and radiant place? Indeed, Is there anything more romantic and picturesque to visit than Paris? If you agree, you can consider Montmartre a must-visit place in the City of Lights. Nestled atop the picturesque hills of Paris, Montmartre stands as a vibrant and bohemian neighbourhood, embodying the essence of artistic allure and cultural richness. This place is unique in many aspects: did you know that Montmartre is the second highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower? Or that it shelters the only Parisian vineyard? Indeed, Montmartre has many secrets waiting to be unveiled. Steeped in history, this charming district has long been a haven for poets, painters, and dreamers alike, all drawing inspiration from its cobbled streets, quaint cafes, colourful houses and iconic landmarks. From the most iconic of them, the enchanting Basilique du Sacré-Cœur dominating the skyline, to the narrow winding alleys that echo with the footsteps of legendary artists, Montmartre weaves a tapestry of tales that chronicle Paris' significant role in art and culture. If you are a romantic wishing to visit Paris, read what follows to discover one of the most beautiful districts of the city of Love.

Montmartre district

Discover Montmartre through time

A place steeped in history

Originally a humble village on the outskirts of Paris, Montmartre has developed over the centuries into a vibrant artistic enclave. The cobbled streets and charming architecture exude old-world charm, echoing whispers of the past. Montmartre's history is woven deeply into the city's fabric, from a Roman settlement to today's bustling arts community. Did you know that before being the beautiful district it is today, Montmartre was a ghetto

It all started in the 1860s when Mount Lone was annexed to Paris. Montmartre was once a vast field. Based on Baron Haussmann's great work, impoverished Parisians were driven out of central Paris and took refuge in what would become the place of guerrillas in Montmartre.

Montmartre's historic house architecture

From a rural village to a vibrant artistic community

By the early 20th century, the face of the guerrillas had completely changed: developers bought and stole land from the guerrillas to build luxury villas and Art Deco-style buildings. In 1909, Juneau Street began to appear, gradually destroying all the partisan huts.The final blow came a few years later when a fire of unknown origin destroyed the last remnants of the guerrillas in Montmartre. If a few more guerrilla fighters persist until 1940, modernity will eventually prevail, turning slums into villages, villages into districts, and districts into legends. Luckily, the hill still retains its rural aura and winding streets! The neighbourhood has been a muse for countless artists, including Picasso and Van Gogh, who found inspiration in its narrow streets and picturesque squares. Nowadays, there is still a bohemian spirit in the air, drawing locals and tourists alike to famous landmarks like the Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge. Montmartre's journey from village to vibrant arts center reflects the evolution of Paris itself, making it a place where past and present flow seamlessly.

Ask for your portrait in Montmartre!

A haven for artists

A pivotal role in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art movements

Montmartre became a thriving art center in the 19th century, attracting a group of revolutionary painters who wanted to break free from the constraints of academic art. The Impressionist movement, which focused on capturing the fleeting effects of light and colour, found fertile ground in Montmartre. Painters such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas often met in Montmartre's cafés and studios to exchange ideas and display their unconventional works.

As the Impressionist movement evolved into Post-Impressionism, artists such as Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh were attracted to Montmartre's unique blend of bohemian lifestyle and artistic camaraderie. The region's vibrant energy provided the perfect backdrop for artists to experiment with new techniques and perspectives, ultimately reshaping the course of art history.

Artist's exhibitions in Montmartre

The Famous artists associated with Montmartre

Montmartre is home to some of the most famous artists in history, each of whom left an indelible mark on the art world. Pablo Picasso, the famous Spanish painter and sculptor, spent much of his early career in Montmartre. The area's avant-garde atmosphere influenced Picasso's transition from the Blue Period to the seminal Cubist movement and forever changed the development of modern art. Another luminary of the art world, Vincent van Gogh, also found solace and inspiration in Montmartre. Van Gogh's vibrant and emotional work was influenced by the nearby busy streets and the unique characters who lived there. His time in Montmartre marked a key chapter in his artistic journey and contributed to developing his unique style. We can also talk about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, known for his evocative depictions of Parisian nightlife. He was a regular patron of Montmartre's cabarets and dance halls. He had close connections to the district, which resulted in iconic works that captured the essence of the bohemian lifestyle. Nowadays, he is considered an integral part of Montmartre’s artistic legacy.

Van Gogh's Self-Portrait

The Iconic Le Bateau-Lavoir Artists' Studio

Did you know about the Bateau-Lavoir Artists’ Studio? Situated at the heart of Montmartre's artistic community, this studio is legendary. This dilapidated building, resembling a ship ("bateau-lavoir" translates to "laundry boat" in English), served as a communal space for artists to work and meet daily. This place became a melting pot of creativity, where groundbreaking ideas through collaborations were born and masterpieces were created.

During the early 20th century, the Bateau-Lavoir gained recognition while hosting luminaries such as Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris. Despite the studio's ramshackle appearance, it was a place of artistic endeavours. In this studio, Picasso painted his groundbreaking work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, a canvas that marked the inception of Cubism.

A modern studio in Montmartre
A modern art studio in Montmartre

Montmartre and its unmissable gems unveiled

Nevertheless, Montmartre is not only a place of rich artistic history, this is also a place of architectural beauty. Hence, here are some gems that you should absolutely not miss when visiting the district!

Place du Tertre: A Living Canvas of Artistic Expression

At the heart of Montmartre lies the enchanting Place du Tertre, a quaint square nestled in a cobbled street that pulsates with the vibrancy of artistic expression. As you wander through this place, you'll find yourself immersed in a living art gallery. There, many artists set up easels and displayed their creations for all to see. Indeed, Place du Tertre has been a gathering place for artists since the late 19th century and continues to be a haven for painters, portraitists, and caricaturists who contribute to the neighbourhood’s unique artistic ambience. If you visit this place, you will have the opportunity to witness the creative process firsthand, meet and discuss with artists, and even commission personalized artworks such as portraits to serve as cherished mementos of your time in Montmartre.

Prepare yourself to encounter a diverse array of artistic styles and subjects, from romantic Parisian scenes to the funniest caricatures; the Place du Tertre encapsulates the kaleidoscope of creativity that defines this original Parisian district.

Place du Tertre

Basilica Sacré-Coeur: A Serene Beacon on the Hill

This architectural masterpiece, dominating the Montmartre skyline, stands as a symbol of tranquillity amid the artistic fervour. This majestic white-domed basilica, consecrated in 1919, provides visitors with a serene retreat and panoramic views of Paris that are unparalleled.

This journey to Sacré-Coeur involves ascending the iconic stairway or, for those seeking a more leisurely approach, taking the funicular to the hill's summit! As you reach the basilica, the mesmerizing architectural blend of Romanesque and Byzantine styles will leave you amazed. Moreover, the interior, adorned with exquisite mosaics and stained glass, displays a sense of sacred beauty that complements the artistic spirit of Montmartre.

The real highlight of this experience, however, is the breathtaking panorama offered by the esplanade in front of the Sacré-Coeur.This view allows you to admire the Parisian marvels at the sprawling city below, with landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral gracing the horizon. 

Le Sacré-Coeur

Montmartre: Where Bohemian Culture and Cabarets Collide

The history and the beauty of Montmartre gave birth to a unique identity, made of a bohemian and cabaret spirit…

Bohemian Lifestyle in Montmartre

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many artists, writers, and intellectuals who sought to escape the conventional constraints of society found refuge in Montmartre. The district's affordability and its picturesque charm attracted a vibrant community of bohemians eager to embrace a nonconformist way of life. Montmartre thus became a melting pot of creative minds and a symbol of the French Art de Vivre. This bohemian lifestyle, so famous in Montmartre, was characterized by rejecting societal norms, embracing individuality, and celebrating artistic experimentation. The district's cafés, such as the historic Le Consulat, served as intellectual salons where painters, poets and thinkers gathered to engage in spirited discussions and fuel their creative endeavours with a glass of wine.

Le Consulat

Famous Cabarets: Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir

Are veritable temples of art and entertainment. Cabarets lie at the heart of Montmartre's bohemian culture. The most renowned of them, Le Moulin Rouge, which opened in 1889, has probably imprinted the arts scene for eternity. This establishment became a symbol of bohemian exuberance with its dazzling can-can dancers, extravagant costumes, and avant-garde performances. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the famous painter of the period whom we talked about just before, immortalized the cabaret's essence in his vibrant and evocative posters while enjoying the shows. 

Another famous cabaret that you should visit is Le Chat Noir. Established in 1881, it was also a gathering place for poets, musicians, and artists that showcased a diverse array of performances, including music, poetry readings, and theatrical productions. Le Chat Noir was a crucible of artistic innovation that nurtured talents like Erik Satie and Alphonse Allais and contributed to the blossoming of Montmartre's cultural appeal.

Le Moulin Rouge

Legacy of the Can-Can Dance and Bohemian Spirit

One of the most iconic symbols of old Paris, the can-can dance, synonymous with the Moulin Rouge, became an emblem of the uninhibited bohemian spirit that pervaded Montmartre. This provocative and energetic dance form captivated audiences with its daring choreography and typical costume. The can-can encapsulated the rebellious ethos of Montmartre, challenging societal propriety and providing a platform for women to express themselves in ways previously deemed scandalous. Nowadays, Montmartre's streets still echo the legacy of the bohemian spirit that once defined this district. While the Cabarets of yesteryear may have evolved and do not offer can-can dance shows anymore, the energy of Montmartre remains palpable

A cabaret dancer
A cabaret dancer

Where to spend your stay in Montmartre

Hôtel Le Chat Noir

Located in the heart of Montmartre, Hôtel Le Chat Noir embodies the bohemian spirit and artistic charm of this iconic area of ​​Paris. Named after Le Chat Noir, the famous cabaret show held at the same location in the late 19th century, the hotel pays homage to Montmartre's rich cultural history. The hotel's décor perfectly blends vintage elegance with modern style, creating a unique and warm atmosphere for guests. With its artistic flair, whimsical feline touches, and comfortable accommodations, Hôtel Le Chat Noir captures the essence of Montmartre's artistic heritage. Just steps away from the lively Place Pigalle and the historic Moulin Rouge, the hotel provides the perfect retreat for travellers who want to immerse themselves in Montmartre's artistic charm while enjoying modern comfort and warm hospitality.

Hotel Des Arts Paris Montmartre

Hôtel des Arts Paris Montmartre invites visitors to immerse themselves in the charming atmosphere of one of Paris' most famous areas. Located in the heart of Montmartre, this charming boutique hotel perfectly embodies the area's artistic and bohemian spirit. The hotel's décor harmoniously blends modern elegance with artistic flair, reflecting the creative energy of Montmartre's history. Each room is carefully designed and full of Parisian style, providing guests with a comfortable and stylish resting place. The hotel's location is particularly attractive; just a few minutes walk from famous sights such as the Sacré-Coeur Basilica and the lively Piazza della Monte, where artists display their work. The Hotel Art Montmartre in Paris offers comfortable accommodations and a gateway to the rich cultural and artistic offerings that make Montmartre a timeless destination for travellers.

Le Relais Montmartre

Located in the heart of Montmartre, Hotel Le Relais Montmartre beckons visitors into a world of timeless Parisian charm. This boutique hotel embodies the essence of the historic quarter, offering a peaceful and elegant retreat amid the artistic vibrancy of Montmartre. The hotel's architecture and interior design reflect a harmonious blend of classic French elegance and modern comfort, providing guests a comfortable retreat after exploring Montmartre's cobbled streets and hidden gems. With its warm hospitality and attention to detail, Relais Montmartre captures the romantic atmosphere of the area, creating an intimate retreat for travellers seeking an authentic Parisian experience. The hotel's proximity to attractions such as the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre-Coeur adds to its appeal. It is ideal for those who wish to immerse themselves in Montmartre's rich history and artistic spirit while enjoying an elegant and welcoming stay.

Terrass'' Hotel

Nestled on the picturesque hill of Montmartre, Hotel Terrass is a true gem with unparalleled panoramic views of Paris. With a rich history dating back to the 19th century, this elegant residence blends historic charm with modern luxury. Art Deco architecture and stylish interiors create a warm atmosphere that embodies Montmartre's artistic and bohemian spirit. The hotel's rooftop terrace is a special feature, offering stunning city views and views of famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Coeur Basilica. In addition to its stunning views, Hotel Tras is also known for its commitment to the arts, with suites that give the impression of being in an artist’s studioIdeally located near Montmartre's artistic center and cultural attractions, Hotel Terrass offers a sophisticated and immersive experience for travellers who want to enjoy the charm and creativity of Montmartre.

Montmartre nowadays

All in all, Montmartre is a must-visit for anyone who wants to experience the bohemian soul of Paris. Montmartre is a living canvas, a testament to the enduring relationship between art and history. This enchanting place has a rich history marked by its promotion of artistic movements and its association with legendary figures that continue to captivate hearts and minds. Cobbled streets, charming cafés, and iconic landmarks such as Place du Tertre and Sacre-Coeur add to Montmartre's undeniable appeal and invite visitors to immerse themselves in its timeless artistic atmosphere. As you stroll its streets and absorb the creative energy that permeates the air, Montmartre will become a paradise for those seeking an authentic and unforgettable experience in the heart of Paris, especially for arts and architecture enthusiasts. Follow the Best of France Facebook page to discover other iconic French destinations!