Behind the Butte: The Hidden Charms of Montmartre’s North Side

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Behind the Butte: The Hidden Charms of Montmartre’s North Side
On any day in summer, the steps below Sacré-Coeur will be thronged with tourists speaking every language under the sun. But walk to the far side of the hill, where it’s possible to hear birdsong and children playing in school yards, to discover a tiny cemetery where some of France’s leading artistic figures reside, and a spot where Paris’s most famous martyr stopped. While the southern side of the Butte Montmartre became famous for its cafés and cabarets, the northern slope remained a tangle of ramshackle houses and allotment gardens. In the 1880s the steep slope was cleared to make way for redevelopment. Except that the redevelopment never happened. Instead, a shanty town of makeshift huts sprang up, cobbled together from scrap timber and iron, known as the Maquis. The maquis de Montmartre in 1890. Public domain Inevitably, squatters moved in: immigrants, unemployed artisans, beggars, anarchists and, of course, impoverished artists. In 1906, Modigliani, newly-arrived in Paris, moved into a vacant shack behind Rue Norvins. The Maquis was also a hotbed of crime, and prostitution, handling stolen goods and even murder flourished where the city police dared not venture. The Maquis de Montmartre, vintage postcard, 1907 The Maquis lasted a good 40 years. Over time, the shacks acquired an air of semi-permanence. Old photographs show rickety wooden stairs and verandas; buddleia and briar roses gave the impression of a semi-rural haven. Eventually, the Maquis was cleared for the second time and it was built over in the 1920s and 30s. Nothing remains now except a few sepia photographs. “Le maquis de Montmartre” by Maurice Utrillo But this side of the Butte still repays a stroll. A good place to start is behind Sacré-Coeur itself, where a quiet garden hides a shady pergola and seating that is popular with locals eating their lunch.

Lead photo credit : Lapin Agile, © Kristof Verslype at Flickr

More in Au Lapin Agile, Hidden gem, Iconic Artists, Montmartre, Places to see

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Pat Hallam fell in love with Paris when she was an adolescent. After many years of visiting, in 2020 she finally moved from the UK to live here and pursue her passion for the city. A freelance writer and history lover, she can spend hours walking the streets of this wonderful city finding hidden courtyards, bizarre and unusual landmarks and uncovering the centuries of history that exist on every street corner (well, almost). You can find the results of her explorations on Instagram @littleparismoments.


  • Kathy Andry
    2022-04-04 03:16:09
    Kathy Andry
    i loved the tour of the back side of Montmartre. One more reason to return to Paris. i wish i had a good map of that area so i could follow along. Something i need to do get. It is good for a silly mind like mine to understand relationships of places to one another.


    • Pat Hallam
      2022-04-06 12:35:17
      Pat Hallam
      Hi Kathy Thanks for your comment. For maps, I use a free app called Paris Offline City Map by a German developer called Lots of people swear by Citymapper but I find this one easy to use, no frills & you don't need a signal to use it.


  • Katie Haig
    2022-03-31 08:02:32
    Katie Haig
    One of my favorite newsletters! Each article was a treasure, with fascinating information, great historical antidotes, and artistic flair. I am saving it for my next trip to Paris. The find in Notre Dame is breathtaking! Last but not least, merci for taking off Putin’s head!


    • Bonjour Paris Editors
      2022-04-01 06:53:35
      Bonjour Paris Editors
      What a lovely note! Thanks so much for your thoughtful feedback.