Last Updated on 19th November 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Ah, the 18th arrondissement of Paris. High up on a hill (butte) overlooking the rest of the city, the district most commonly referred to as ‘Montmartre’ has a long and rich history. Home to the likes of the open air painters of Place du Tertre, the iconic La Maison Rose, and the illustrious Sacre-Coeur, this is one area of the city you won’t want to miss on any trip to France. Here’s your guide to the best of cool, interesting, and fun facts about Montmartre!
#1 Montmartre only became part of Paris proper in 1860
On a recent poll in my Instagram stories during the weekly quiz I host, I asked people when they thought Montmartre was incorporated into the city of Paris. The overwhelming result? Many people thought that the district had been part of Paris proper (intra-muros Paris) since the 17th or 18th century. In actual fact, the district was only officially incorporated into the city in 1860.
#2 Montmartre is home to one of the last working vineyards in Paris
Once upon a time, the areas surrounding Paris would have been filled with working farms, vineyards, and windmills to ground the harvests. Of course, over the centuries, these were largely cleared and demolished to make way for an ever-growing population and expanding city. Today, only a handful of windmills of Paris remain, all of which can be found in Montmartre.
All of the original vineyards of the faubourgs (suburbs) of Paris have also since disappeared. With this being said, Montmartre is indeed home to a vineyard thanks to a revival of city vineyard projects in the 1930s.
You see, there was a proposal to build extra houses on what was once a rubbish heap. In order to prevent extra houses, a vineyard was created. Nowadays, a harvest festival takes place annually in the vineyard. This is also the only time of the year when the vineyard is open to the general public!
#3 The Sacre-Coeur is built from a limestone which bleaches itself
The Sacré-Coeur finds its roots in pagan origins and is one of the most popular and famous landmarks of Paris. If you’ve ever been to the French capital, then you’ll know that the traffic in the city is notoriously bad and pollution is a big problem (though many efforts by the City and Mayor of Paris have been made in recent years to try and reduce pollution).
As a result, you would be forgiven for being confused as to why the Sacré-Coeur retains its pristine white glow, despite no regular cleanings. The reason behind this is that the limestone bleaches itself naturally each time it rains. Rather interestingly, the stones are sourced from the same quarry as those used to build the Chateau at Nemours, which can be visited as an easy day trip from Paris.
#4 The origin of the name ‘Montmartre’
In actual fact, no one quite knows as to how the name ‘Montmartre’ originated, though there are two leading theories. One is that the name of the hill (and the highest natural point in Paris) derives from Mons Martis (which means mount of Mars in Latin) and that it was later changed to Montmartre as a Gallicised form of the name.
The second prevailing theory for the origins of the name ‘Montmartre’ is that the word came from ‘Mount of the Martyr’ after Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris. After all, it was on the hill of Montmartre in 250 CE that Saint Denis was decapitated.
The story goes that Saint Denis was sentenced to be crucified on a hill close to what was then close to the city limits of Paris. His crime? He had preached Christianity to the inhabitants of Lutetia(the name under which Paris was referred to during the Roman era).
His sentencer? A Roman prefect by the name of Fescennius Sisinius. The story continues that Saint Denis was decapitated before he could be crucified. After being decapitated, it’s said that the Saint picked up his head and walked several miles in order to preach a sermon on repentance. Today, there are several monuments in Paris dedicated to the first bishop of Paris, Saint Denis.
#5 Montmartre is home to the oldest surivivng cemetery in Paris
There is a tiny cemetery hidden in the shadow of the Sacre-Coeur that even many Parisians themselves have never heard of. The Cimetiere du Calvaire can be found in the very heart of the 18th arrondissement and is situated just steps away from
The cemetery was founded as early as 1688 on the site of the Montmartre Abbey. Once used to bury religious members of the church, at its opening the cemetery was the only cemetery available to residents of Montmartre. Even prior to this, the site is thought to have been used as a Merovingian burial ground during the 7th-century.
#6 Montmartre has never been quite like the rest of ‘Paris’
Residents of Montmartre are known as Montmartrois and the inhabitants of the 18th district have a long history of dissent against the City of Paris. One such event saw the district rebel against city officials in 1871. For a brief stint of three months, Montmartre became independent and ruled itself as La Commune.
#7 Montmartre is the highest natural point in Paris
One thing you should know about Paris is that the oldest districts of the city (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th- in total there are 20 districts or ‘arrondissements‘ that make up the French capital) are all incredibly flat, making it easy to walk or cycle around the city.
This is most certainly not the case with the 18th district. Instead, Montmartre’s highest point is 130 metres above sea level, making it the highest natural vantage point in the city. With this being said, the Eiffel Tower is still taller than the hill, standing at an impressive 300 metres high.
#8 Montmartre is the birthplace of Renault Cars
In a rather odd turn of events, one of the longest and most famous roads in Montmartre, that of rue Lepic, also happens to be the birthplace of one of the most famous French car brands… And it all happened quite by accident after a bet!
Perhaps most interestingly, it was also along this little Parisian street where Louis Renault (you know, like the car brand ‘RENAULT’) built his first car in 1898. The story goes that Renault made a bet with his friends that his little ‘Voiturette’ would not make it up the steep slope of rue Lepic. Luckily for Louis and the world, his car did, indeed, make it!