Top 10 Historical Facts about the Place du Tertre

The Place du Tertre is a historic little artist’s hub neat the summit of Montmartre hill in the 18th arrondissement.

If you aren’t already familiar with how things work in this space, let me brush you up. The Place du Tertre is a public square in which 150 artists set up easels every morning for a full day of creating works outdoors.

Place du Tertre – by KimonBerlin – Wikimedia Commons

Visitors to the square can have their portraits painted, or commission works from the artists to take home as souvenirs from their trip to Paris. The Place du Tertre boundaries are also lined with cafes, restaurants and bars — so the square is quite a social space as well.

The Place du Tertre is considered an unmissable attraction in the neighborhood of Montmartre, with ample things to see, do or buy. This space is one of the first foundations that ever formed this district and therefore its history is rich and culture unmatched. Here are 10 historical facts about the beloved square.

1. The Place du Tertre was Opened to the Public in 1635

Despite being initially constructed in 1133 by King Louis VI, the Place du Tertre was only opened to the Parisian public in 1635.

Back then it was known at the “Montmartre Village Central Square” where locals of the area were encouraged to gather and enjoy the open air space.

Place du Tertre – by Son of Groucho – Wikimedia Commons

During this time neither Montmartre nor the Place du Tertre were havens for the art world. This would only see transformation after the Revolution.

It didn’t take long after the sqaure’s public debut for this area of Montmartre to become prime real estate for the locals and developers of Paris. All of the buildings that still enclose the square today were build during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Most have only ever been renovated on the inside, with simple necessary maintenance taking place on the exterior.

2. The Meaning of Place du Tertre

As poetic as it sounds, ‘Place du Tertre’ is about as literal as it gets.

Place is the French word used to introduce a public square or “plaza” as they are known around they city. There are hundreds of them situated around Paris; some big, some small.

Many people forget that even the Arc de Triomphe is technically a public square around which the traffic flows. Place des Vosges is the most beautiful, in my opinion; situated in the Marais district right between the 3rd and 4th arrondissements.

Place du Tertre – by palm z – Wikimedia Commons

Common misconception has people concluding that ‘Tertre’ is simply a derivative or slang abbreviation for ‘Montmartre’. This is incorrect.

A tertre is actually the word for a small hill or mound. An apt description for the public square that lives at the top of the Montmartre hill. At 130m above sea level this is the highest plaza in all of Paris. 

3. The Place du Tertre was Developed as the Center of the Abbaye de Montmartre

A very long time ago, in the year 1133, King Louis VI established the prestigious Benedictine Montmartre Abbey near the top of a beautiful hill in the 18th arrondissement.

At this time, the now Montmartre hill would have been vastly different to what it is today. Barren and void of all suburban life would be the best way to describe it; complete solitude and quiet — the ideal location for an abbey vicinity.

Montmartre Abbey – by Unknown – Wikimedia Commons

The Place du Tertre was create in the process of this abbey being built. It became the central point of the new building occupied by the religious patrons of that time. Because of the very private nature of the clergy, the square was kept solely for their use and henceforth only opened to the public many years later, as we already discussed.

The Montmartre Abbey thrived for centuries. It was eventually destroyed during the French Revolution, leaving only the empty Place du Tertre behind.

4. The Word “Bistro” was Coined at the Place du Tertre

My favourite “did you know…” story to tell when passing through the Place du Tertre is the age old speculation of the word “bistro” having been invented right here many years ago (Read more about Discover walking tours).

In the early 18th century a historic war took place which is today remembered as the Battle of Paris. After this battle, many Russian soldiers occupied Paris and stayed for lengthy periods of time. They became regulars on the Parisian hospitality scene.

In the Place du Tertre you’ll find a vibrant, red restaurant called La Mère Catherine. It was opened here during this time of battle and has remained ever since.

The Russian soldiers enjoyed La Mère Catherine as their local Montmartre hangout spot as they could eat and drink alcoholic beverages to their hearts content.

Soldiers at La Mère Cathèrine – by BArchBot – Wikimedia Commons

The Russian word for quick is bystro. The soldiers would repeatedly yell this at one another in attempt to hurry their fellow soldiers to finish their drinks so they they could return to duty.

It would see that over time the saying simply stuck and La Mère Catherine became one of the first official bistros in the city of Paris.

To get a feel for the place and of the experience that these soldiers might have had back in the day, visit La Mère Catherine and take a table in the sidewalk seating area. The food is wonderful and this is a great place from which to people watch the rest of the square.

5. The Place du Tertre has Always Been Known as “The Artists Square”

Aside from the Abbey years, this plaza very quickly adopted the street name of “the artist’s square” and still goes by this in many parts of Paris today.

After the Revolution, Paris developed into a promising land where art and creativity seemed to be both celebrated & appreciated throughout the land. Paris became the sought after place to be by artists in France and the rest of Europe.

Whenever there is an influx of artists into a country they usually always head to the districts with the lowest cost of living. At this time, it was Montmartre.

Most of the world famous artists we hold onto today spent significant portions of their careers in Montmartre, either living there or making use of cheap studio rental spaces.

Place du Tertre – by Willem van de Poll – Wikimedia Commons

Van Gogh, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and even Monet held Montmartre near and dear to their hearts; with many bodies of work being influenced by the roads and greenery of the hillside.

The Place du Tertre was the center point in Montmartre during this time, and naturally became a popular hangout for all of the artist mentioned above. Back then there weren’t 150 painters with easels set up in the middle of the square — rather just one or two under the trees with sketch books and good intentions.

The Place du Tertre was a free, open space where creatives could seek solace from the chaos of the outside world. Thus “the artist’s square” was born and the slow evolution into what the square embodies today was able to begin.

6. The French Automobile Industry was Launched at the Place du Tertre

Years ago in 1898 a man named Louis Renault (founder of Renault cars) brought his first ever automobile creation to the district of Montmartre to give it its maiden voyage.

This took place on Christmas Eve, which seemed the most memorable day of the year on which to make history.

Place du Tertre – by tko62 – Wikimedia Commons

The vehicle was driven from the bottom of the hill in Pigalle right up through the winding roads of Montmartre until eventually coming to a stop at the Place du Tertre. The journey was a successful one considering the car made it all the way without any problems.

This even is considered to be the one that launched the entire automobile industry in France, officially making them a genuine competitor with the Germans and other manufacturers in Europe.

7. The First Town Hall of Montmartre was Founded in 1790

This is relevant to the history of the Place du Tertre once you understand how logistics in this square work.

The artists that come here each day and attempt to sell work aren’t just any random Parisian street artists who happened to be in the area. The system at Place du Tertre is a strict one, and anyone who would like to work here need apply through the town hall of Montmartre.

The district of Montmartre only opened its first town hall in 1790. This officially marked it as a contributing suburb in Paris. The town hall took over the management of art production within the Place du Tertre, officials forcing artists to apply for square space through the offices.

Place du Tertre – by Mario Sánchez Prada – Wikimedia Commons

This system is still in place today. There are a total of 300 artists approved to produce works in the space. They work on a daily rotational basis, meaning 150 one day and 150 the next.

Each artist is give a mere three meters squared in which to set up shop. They pay the city a yearly stipend that covers their “rent” for the space.

The waiting list to become an artist in the Place du Tertre is currently sitting at 10 years long.

8. The Place du Tertre Wasn’t Always Lined With Restaurants

This is probably a no brainer, considering everything that is was always once nothing before.

However when visitors first enter the Place du Tertre, whether on a free guided walking tour or at their own accord, they are usually astounded by the restaurant and cafe presence in the space.

La Mère Cathèrine – by Shadowgate – Wikimedia Commons

The entire boarder of the Place du Tertre is line with cafes, bars, bistros and even crêperies. The streets of Montmartre are naturally very social spaces centered around good food and fine wines — the Place du Tertre seems to have crammed everything into one space.

Unfortunately, most tourist traps in Paris lead to average food with hefty price tags. La Bohême du Tertre and La Mère Catherine are the two notable above average dining spots within the square.

9. The Place du Tertre is Older than the Sacre Coeur

Killing two birds with one stone, you’ll probable visit the Sacre Coeur Basilica before or after your visit in the Place du Tertre. The two are a few minutes walking distance from one another and definitely the most worthwhile attractions in Montmartre.

Given the ancient nature of many of the structures in Montmartre, the Place du Tertre included, people are usually shocked when they learn that the Sacre Coeur was only completed not long ago in 1914.

Sacre Coeur Basilica – by Hauke Vogt – Wikimedia Commons

Despite looking like one of the oldest pieces of history in Paris, the Sacre Coeur is actually one of the youngest.

To get to the church, simply exit the Place du Tertre and keep heading north or “up” the hill until you finally get to the summit. You’ll see the sparkling white church well enough in advance to know you’re headed the right direction.

Entry into the church is free for all, you will only have to purchase tickets if you’d like access to the dome tower right at the very top.

10. The Place du Tertre Brings 10 Million Visitors Per Week

This makes it one of the top contributors to tourism to the city of Paris. And it has been so since word got out that Picasso and co could sometimes be spotted roaming around the square.

Being an artist’s village, everything begins slightly later in Montmartre. Nothing really happens before 10am, which gives the Place du Tertre artists time to set up in the square long before the first visitors make their way up the hill.

An empty Place du Tertre – by Nimbusania – Wikimedia Commons

It helps that the Sacre Coeur, Montmartre Museum, Cemetery of Montmartre and Dali Museum are all within walking distance of the Place du Tertre; all of them bouncing the millions of visitors between one another.