Only one day in Paris and what did we see? The Sacré Coeur is my first stop in our whirlwind tour of the beautiful city of Paris. As I came in from the Eurostar at the Gard du Nord it was the closest site so off we went.
The Eurostar was on time and we arrived without any problems, ready for a family trip to as many Parisian sites as we could physically do in one day. The Gard du Nord is perfectly placed for a visit to one of the most sacred sites in Northern Paris.
Coming out of the station entrance we turned right and not having a map with us, we used our gut feeling and memories to guide us up the hill towards the hill known as Montmarte. The hill rises about 129 metres above sea level so be prepared for a good lung-stretching hike. It took us about 15 minutes to get to the base of the hill, but climbing up will vary obviously!!
A little history for you, the name was derived from the the fact that it was the site of the martyrdom of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, in the late third century. “The Mount of Martyrs” is also the site of the founding of the Jesuit order in 1534. During the French Revolution, Benedictine Abbey that occupied the site was destroyed and all the nuns were sent to the guillotine. The history of the site is certainly bloody, in 1873 permission was given to build a church dedicated to the heart of Christ, and work began with the foundation stone in 1875, the basilica in 1881 and by 1914 it was completed and ready to be consecrated but the first World War broke out and so consecration finally took place on the 16th of October 1919.
Once you have staggered to the top of the stairs or taken the slightly more gentle path around the gardens you can truly see why the site was chosen, the whole city of Paris lies in front of you sprawling with the weight of the heavens pressing down upon the city. If you go to the top of the dome then you are now viewing Paris from the second highest point in the city, the first being The Eiffel Tower. The dome is 200 metres above sea level.
Despite the serious crowds at the top, it is possible to forget them for a minute and look out at the view, though jostling for a bit of space to take a pic might be an issue during summer. It was October when we went and the weather was dramatic with sudden rain storms, great for clearing the air and removing a few of the less ardent tourists. Keep a hand on your bag of cams at all times though, as there are a lot of people begging.
Inside the Basilica it is very dark and it will take your eyes a while to adjust, it is also very crowded and you have to shuffle through and you are only directed to go through the entrance and exit doors to make it easier. The stillness and the smell of incense inside is wonderfully calming. A stunning mosaic can be found of the altar and the cuppola is just stunning with the sunlight streaming through. Taking anything like a long exposure is rather difficult as it’s so busy.
Looking south, you can see so many famous landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, the Pompidou Centre, Notre Dame – all incredible. Nearby places to visit when you decide to descend the steps again is the artists’ square of Montmarte and lower down, in both senses of the word is the area of Pigalle, with the world-famous Moulin Rouge…but that will be another location!