Montmartre, in the eyes of the Parisians, is a haven of peace, but many tourists forget to come here, and they miss a lot! Beyond the Sacré-Coeur, the Moulin Rouge and the landmarks of Montmartre, the district is also about the atmosphere, the narrow streets, the artists, and all the stories behind all of that. Here is our list of the top 5 fun facts about Montmartre!
A magnificent view of the back of the Basilica: the square Turlure
Historically speaking, Montmartre is very rich, which is why there are two rival explanations going around as to where the name « Montmartre » came from. Montmartre was originally named « Mons Martis », meaning the « Mount of Mars »; later, it was christened to « Montmartre », aka the « Mount of the Martyr ».
At the top of the hill, the first bishop of Paris, Saint Denis, was decapitated in 250 AD – during the time of the Roman empire, it was not okay to be a Christian. As such, his martyrdom must have inspired the name of the hill; however, he didn’t die « normally ».
In this statue, you can see it: Saint Denis is obviously holding his own head. This is because, at first, he was sentenced to be crucified on top of the hill; the only reason he got decapitated is because the soldier who was accompanying him got bored along the way.
But Saint Denis was pretty upset about this: he liked the idea of dying like Jesus. So, he picked up his own head and continued walking to the top of the hill. Or so the legend says. There, he dropped dead, but his head rolled and rolled… to a point that was later declared sacred – and where they built the cathedral of Saint Denis.
Because he was such a determined man, and because he met a tragic fate like many famous Montmartrois, I largely prefer the idea that Montmartre was named after him. Please come to Montmartre to pay a little visit to Saint Denis; you can find him in the square Suzanne Buisson, which is a very typical Parisian park where you can see French people playing the pétanque (bocce balls).
2.) Montmartre’s identity – Graffiti
If you check out the history of Montmartre, you’ll see that most of the time, it is in conflict with the rest of Paris. The Montmartrois are different from the « regular » Parisians, and they are proud to say so. For instance, in 1871, the people of Montmartre rebelled and created their own system, La Commune, and they were sort of independent for a little less than three months.
That is because Montmartre used to be a separate village. Until 1860, Montmartre was a different town. A fun fact about this would be that the last mayor of Montmartre, M. Veron, died in 1861… of sorrow, some say. Un-officially, Montmartre still is separate. But the Montmartrois often know a tragic fate: the French singer Dalida, the impressionist painters…
There are fewer and fewer Montmartrois: many of today’s inhabitants of Montmartre are bobos: bourgeois bohemians, people who make a lot of money but who pretend to live the philosopher’s life. This is why the « older » Montmartrois, the ones who believe to be the true ones, want to keep « their » quarter, and they protest through graffiti. A fun fact about Montmartre is that, in many places, you’ll see tags reading « Bobos, cassez-vous », which is a harsh way to say in French: bobos, get the hell out.
In this photo, you see a graffiti saying « Vive la Commune », which basically means « hurrah to the Revolution ». The Montmartrois are quite revolutionary and very attached to their independence – and they will be glad to tell you about what they think and what they love about Montmartre.
3.) The Montmartre of the artists
Today, it is expensive to live in Montmartre; but for a long time, it was a working-class neighborhood. Which drew the painters of the 19th century, and as you know, they were basically broke all their lives. Beyond the economic argument, they were inspired by the colors and the rural aspect of Montmartre. One of our top fun facts about Montmartre concerns Picasso and the cabaret of the Lapin Agile: whenever he went there to have lunch, Picasso paid with a drawing.
The owner accepted it at first, although he did ask Picasso why he didn’t even sign his drawings; to which Picasso supposedly answered « That’s because I only want to buy lunch, not your whole restaurant ». But pretty soon, the owner got upset over Picasso’s stubbornness.
The Lapin Agile is also known for being the place where, in order to make fun of the impressionists and the cubists and their new style, a few men took a donkey, dipped its tail into yellow paint, and then let him shake his tail on a canvas… and called the whole thing an impressionist painting. The owner, unfortunately, later sold the Picasso drawings – but the Lapin Agile is still a nice place to eat in Montmartre, still pretty authentic – it used to be called the Assassin’s cabaret, but it doesn’t deserve this nickname anymore.
4.) The vineyard
Ten meters away from the Lapin Agile, is an unmissable spot in Montmartre: the vineyard, the only one left in Paris. A fun fact about Montmartre is that, even though it is expensive wine (about 45 euros a bottle), it is bad wine: basically, it is the most expensive bad wine there is. Indeed, you need good quality of air and a large amount of sun to make good wine; and those are two things that Paris is seriously lacking.
But I still advise you to go see the vineyard; remember though, that Montmartre wine is better on a chimney than in a glass. Mostly, we keep it for tradition and all the money is given to charity.
5.) The hill and transportation
Last but not least of our top fun facts about Montmartre: the practical aspect of the hill. It is a hill, and that is what makes it pretty, with the curves and the narrow streets. But it makes it kind of complicated to get there; there is only one metro station located on the hill, Abbesses. And if you go down to this station, take the stairs! This metro station is the deepest in Paris: the equivalent of a fifteen storey building.
There is one bus especially made for Montmartre: the Montmartrobus. Walking or biking there is a more authentic experience. However, it is almost impossible to find a Velib’ in Montmartre… very logically, everyone takes bikes to get down, but nobody takes them back up! So, if you are courageous enough to take the Velib’ up to Montmartre, they offer you an extra free 40 minutes, as an award.