I decided to start a new feature entitled “rate-o-attraction.” It’s basically a review of a popular tourist attraction consisting of a summary of the attraction, pros and cons for visiting, and a conclusion. For the inaugural post I decided to do Sacre Coeur/Montmartre in Paris, France.
The attraction: The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (more commonly known as Sacre Coeur Basilica) is a Roman Catholic and minor basilica located at the summit of the butte Montmartre in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, It was built as a symbol of the return of self-confidence after the destructive years of the Commune and Franco-Prussian War. Designed by architect by Paul Abadie in Romano-Byzantine style, groundbreaking took place in 1875 and it was completed in 1914. The top of the dome is open to visitors and affords an even higher and more breathtaking vista than the one offered along the steps of the basilica.
Pros to visiting: The views offered atop Paris’ highest point can’t be beat. Although the city offers numerous incredible views from the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower, sitting on the steps at the base of the basilica, taking in the City of Light, there’s no comparison. You’re in Paris, and yet you’re not due to Montmartre being so incredibly far away from the city center. (It was in fact a separate area until the annexation of 1860 when it became part of Paris.) The basilica itself is striking, its wedding-cake white facade a welcome and pleasant change from the numerous dark and somber cathedrals that are found throughout the city. It often reminds me of Rome’s monument to Vittorio Emanuele II who was the first king of a unified Italy, both being white, striking, and decidedly different. I enjoy the quaintness of Montmartre’s windy and hilly streets, that is, those away from the mobs of people that flock to the basilica. On our last day in Paris, D and I visited Sacre Coeur and from sheer aimless wandering, we came across a delightful little shop that sold wares from the country’s Provence region. I came away with a bar of lavender soap and a striking yellow tea towel. Not at all kitschy Parisienne souvenirs.
Cons to visiting: D and I took the metro to the Montmartre area and got off at the Pigalle stop. For anyone not familiar, the Quartier Pigalle is the city’s adult entertainment district. Numerous sex shops line the boulevards and side streets and the world famous Moulin Rouge cabaret is also located there. (On my first ever visit to Paris I did take a picture of the famous red windmill but I’ve never had any desire to pay near to 200 euros to sit amongst tourists while watching a mediocre cabaret show). Although during the day Pigalle’s streets are perfectly safe and filled with plenty of locals and visitors, we did walk by (twice!) a woman who appeared to be a bit mentally disturbed, as she was rubbing a graphic sex toy across her face as she talked to herself. At night I probably wouldn’t want to be walking the streets there unless I was seeking out Pigalle’s infamous sights.
Like many European cities, Paris has seen a surge in immigrants from developing countries who at times obnoxiously and unnervingly hawk their wares in your face. When D and I arrived at the base of the butte Montmartre, near to its famous merry-go-round, we were harassed incessantly by African immigrants wanting you to spend a euro for a string trick. When we moved away from them after having politely said “non, merci”, some of them even had the audacity to follow. I finally had to sharply say “nous lassier seuls” (leave us alone) to one of them. He seemed to get the picture from my extremely aggravated facial expression.
My other problem was with the Romas. Along with a queue of other tourists and locals we had paid our fare to ride the funicular to the top of the hill (instead of climbing the dozens of steps). To gain admittance to the funicular, each person had to pass through a turn-style that automatically counted the number of occupants. Having already boarded, we saw three Roma teenagers sneak on the funicular without paying and thus causing people who had indeed paid their fare and waited patiently in line, to have to wait yet another turn. I found this outrageous and some of the locals did as well, because there was even a back and forth that went on between one of the teenagers and a local.
Conclusion: Is it worth it to visit? Yes and no. If you’ve never been to Paris before then yes, I feel like every visitor to the City of Light should gaze upon the city atop its highest point. Sacre Coeur is a striking religious building and some pleasant shops and cafes can be found in the area. If you’ve already been before, I’d find a new area to become enchanted with. Sacre Coeur and Montmartre is simply not an idyllic spot. Where there are thousands of tourists, unpleasant aspects and people will follow, and unfortunately, remain.