Paris - Day Two

Today is my first full day in Paris for this trip. Not a whole lot on the agenda today, except to go see the Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica.

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre is a Roman Catholic church that sits at the height of an isolated hill and is the highest point in the city of Paris. The now-popular landmark was designed by Paul Abadie in 1870 and construction began in 1875. After Abadie's death in 1884, a team of five architects continued his design and the final stones were placed in 1914. Which the impending war, the minor basilica was consecrated at the end of World War I in 1919; by which time the public acceptance of the church shifted from a political and religious one (in 1873 the Archbishop of Paris, by approving its construction specified it was to "expiate the crimes of the Commune"), to more of a monument of dedication to honour the 58,000 men and women who lost their lives during the war.

Sacré Coeur is built out of travertine stone. The stone exudes calcite, which keeps the monument looking white even through weathering and pollution.

There is a funicular that you can take from the metro station up the hill to the top, but I decided to just walk it. Many, many steps. 270 steps. But the views are fantastic. You can also take MORE steps up to the top of the dome, but it will cost you 8. I was okay with skipping the extra hike and decided to instead wander around the basilica and then through the narrow streets of Montmartre.

Montmartre is famous for its many artists' studios and craft boutiques. There are a number of side walk cafés and street artists; but beware - the streets are very narrow and the cars passing by do not tend to slow down. Several famous artists have worked in or around Montmartre because of low rent (at the time) and a combined artistic atmosphere; including Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro and Vincent van Gogh. There is a Salvador Dali museum (Espace Dali) which unfortunately was closed during my visit. I guess it just leaves something for me to visit on my next trip.

Because of its elevation, Montmartre has a series of steep stairs with wrought iron railings and lamp posts. You may recognize the scenery from popular movies such as An American in Paris, Amélie, Moulin Rouge, and La Vie en Rose.

It's interesting how sometimes in our rush to get to the main attraction, we overlook or even miss great scenes and fantastic reminders of everyday life and the incredible opportunities we have. An example of this is the old carousel at the bottom of the stairs before heading up to the monument. Many pass it by without even a second glance. But it was fun to sit and watch the old horses turn round and round, and how delighted the little girls were to ride the pink ponies and the boys to climb up high on those black stallions. It also gave me a breather after climbing up and down all those stairs. You may remember this carousel from the movie Amélie, as mentioned above. In the movie, this is the scene where she returns the scrapbook to Nino.
I found out that carousels were created as a result of tragedy. King Henry II was killed in a jousting accident, and so safer practices for tournaments were created. Thus, a "carrousel" refers to a type of military dressage. Originally, there were a series of metal rings that the knight must spear with his lance. Overtime, this evolved into a turning platform, and the rings were placed at varying intervals to increase difficulty. The knight would hook the rings onto his lance as he came around, and the rings were replaced by a servant so that they would be in position for the next time. The speed of the turning platform could then be altered in speed until the knight was no longer able to capture all the rings. For the birth of the Dauphin in 1662, Louis the XVI held a carousel festival with true fanfare. Over 15,000 guests came to watch knights participate in the tournaments. But it must have been some party, because even today, the location is known as Place du Carrousel.

After wandering the streets below Montmartre for a bit and picking up a few trinkets to bring back home, it was time head home to get ready for my sunset dinner cruise on the Seine.

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