Sacre-Coeur – The White Beast On The Hill Of Montmartre

Although an infant among the city's churches, Sacre-Coeur Paris is one of the most visible and well-known churches in the city. In some people's opinion, it's also the least attractive. But whatever you may think, you can't miss it on the Paris skyline.

Sacre-Coeur was commissioned by the French National Assembly in 1873, following the tumultuous year of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune. It was in this period that France had suffered a humiliating military defeat, Emperor Napoleon II fled into exile, Paris itself had been under siege, and the riotous period of the Paris Commune that followed caused thousands of deaths and destroyed many buildings — including the Tuileries Palace and the Hotel de Ville.


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Sacre-Coeur – The Controversies


In a still-controversial decision in 1873, the National Assembly voted to use the highest and most visible land in the city to "expiate the crimes of the Commune". The angry debate about the church was indicative of the schism in the French social order, with royalists and reactionary Catholics on one side, and democrats, socialists and rationalists on the other.

The land was seized from the legal property owners. The bishops of the Catholic Church supported the idea of course, but it was opposed by many others, including French president Georges Clemenceau.

The foundation stones were laid in 1875 but ongoing political debates slowed progress. One fractious debate of 1880 called the basilica a provocation to civil war and proposed reversing the 1873 decree that granted the property rights for the church. In the end, at least five different architects were involved in completing the design; construction was not completed until 1914 — just in time for World War I. Sacre-Coeur took longer to complete than did the Parthenon in Athens.

The Sacre-Coeur has remained the subject of controversy. Some call it the white elephant of Paris and consider it nothing more than an eyesore. But, located on top of Montmartre, the marble white cathedral offers one of the best views of Paris. It's also, as we mentioned, one of the highest points in the city.


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How Does the Cathedral Stay So White?


Surprisingly, the white stone used to build Sacre-Coeur has an amazing self-cleaning property. When it rains the stone excretes a white chalky substance that acts like a fresh coat of paint. Oh, by the way, at 18.5 tons, the tower bell is one of the heaviest in the world.

Traveler's Tip — Climb the 237 steps of the dome of the basilica to get a spectacular 30-mile view of Paris and Ile de France. After your visit, head towards Place des Abbesses for a taste of the real Montmartre.

Sacre-Coeur Resources


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Montmartre – Dinner & Show at the Moulin Rouge

Dinner and Show at the Moulin Rouge

After viewing the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, visit another famous site at the foot of Montmartre and take in the number-one rated show in Paris at the Moulin Rouge cabaret. It's an interesting way to mix the worldly with the ethereal.

At Moulin Rouge you'll enjoy a 3-course meal of traditional French food, champagne, and the world-famous show with over 100 artists and dancers. This dinner and show package is our readers' favorite — and it's easy to enjoy yourself because it also includes hotel pickup! No worries.


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Montmartre & Sacre-Coeur Walking Tour

Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur Walking Tour

Windmills, cabarets, artists' residences, winding streets and a big white basilica — all that plus some great food are what you'll find on top of this most famous Paris hill, as well as a spectacular view.

We like this guided walk that takes you through the streets of Montmartre, with a Paris expert at your side, to discover the historic significance of this famous Paris neighborhood. Walk with the ghosts of Picasso and Van Gogh. You'll also visit Sacre-Coeur, of course.

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