You can’t miss it. There on the horizon as you stroll giddily through the streets of Paris. Up an a large hill overlooking The City of Lights is the imposing white domed Basilica singing at you like a sirens song to come visit. You think aha! this must be the place of enlightenment on the mountaintop!”.
The “mountaintop” is Montmartre, the tallest hill overlooking Paris, and a favorite neighborhood for those of us with romantic notions of a place that exudes bohemianism and debauchery. Montmartre is still to a degree the haunt of artists, mostly those who do portraiture, and there is still a touch of the wild side at the Moulin Rouge, but it is all mostly now geared to tourism. And, for the tourists, there are lots of nice shops selling goodies such as copies of the wonderful Toulouse-Lautrec posters and all kinds of French chocolate. And there is a plethora of cafes, bars, and restaurants. The overall feeling is pleasant: A quaint old neighborhood with fresher air and a more peaceful ambience than the busy streets down the hill.
The Basilica is Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) whose bright white stone reads like a beacon at any time of the day. The stone used for the construction of the church is a travertine which when moistened by rain, forms calcite which bleaches with age to bright white. The Basilica looks to be ancient but in fact was constructed in the late 1800’s. A series of onion shaped domes and bell tower produce an imposing but pleasing composition with a decidedly vertical emphasis which dominates the northern edge of the city. The interior spaces, though dimly lit, soar to seemingly extraordinary heights and are decorated with gleaming mosaic scenes from the Bible. Not to be missed are a series of stained glass windows dedicated to Joan of Arc which wrap around the apse behind the main altar.
Re-emerging from the Basilica you are presented with a breathtaking panoramic view over the city. Just below the entry plaza, a series of steps and cascading lawns provide a perfect spot for rest, reflection, enlightenment, and, if it is dusk, you can watch another day in the life of the city as it transforms and displays itself as “The City of Light”.