Before coming to Paris, you hear so much about the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame etc., etc., which are both so beautiful, don’t get me wrong. You hear a little bit about “Sacre Coeur…the beautiful white church on the hill in Monmartre”..but no one told me how absolutely breathtaking the Basilica is and how absolutely amazing the neighborhood of Monmartre is. It is by far my favorite place in Paris thus far.
I wrote my parents an email right after having returned from Monmartre. The experience was fresher in my mind at the time, so I am going to copy an excerpt from the email so you can get a better idea of how I truly feel about this beautiful place!
here it is:
I went to Montmartre (martyr’s mountain) and Sacre Coeur Basilica. I will try and give a visual explanation but I know I won’t do it any justice. For starters, it is the prettiest part of Paris, no doubt about it. It is a total bohemian area, full of vintage shops and artsy, earthy people. It is up on a big hill, with little winding cobble stoned alleyways everywhere. When you get to the Sacre Coeur, it takes your breath away. I read up on it before going and when it was built during the French Revolution, it was meant to restore people’s faith, and I think it still carries out it’s purpose today. It is a huge, monumental white Basilica on the summit of Montmartre. It is all white and it’s façade has a beautiful portico. It has 3 huge Islamic inspired domes, which make it very unique compared to the other more gothic cathedrals of Paris. I liked it so much because it combined so many different styles, the architecture seemed to be a combination of a little bit of Roman (from the columns), Islamic (because of the domes), and Byzantine (on the interior)…whoever the architect was, he was definitely reacting against something at the time! It was very unusual, and I kind of understand why I never studied it in any of my art history architecture classes…it cannot be categorized!
On another note, part of what made Sacre Coeur so stunning was the hill it is on was covered in the prettiest, greenest grass and flowers and trees and ooooodles of people laying on the grass and enjoying the day. It was a sight to see, I preferred the vantage point of being at the bottom of the hill and looking up at it…they say churches are supposed to be the house of God and this one truly epitomizes that idea. I felt like I was standing at the gates of heaven! I already cannot wait to go back…
Since I’ve spent so much time describing the exterior, I won’t dwell on the interior, although they completely reflect each other and were both equally amazing. The Blessed Sacrament is continually on display (and has been since 1885, I read) so no pictures were allowed and we had to slowly and quietly process through it. The most amazing part was the mosaic above the apse and altar on the middle and biggest dome. I got out of line and stood directly on the oculus (my teacher always said this is the very best vantage point for a panoramic view of mosaics or frescos in basilicas…she was right…it is the point on the ground that matches up perfectly to the middle of the point of the dome…hard to describe but hopefully you understand…it is usually marked on the ground so it is easy to find.) Anyways, the mosaic was of Christ in Majesty …and it HAS to be the biggest mosaic of its kind, if not the biggest mosaic in the world. The colors were phenomenal and a lot of it was gilded, which made it even more stunning. The whole place smelled of incense and there were little niches dedicated to different saints for meditation all along the side aisle.