The Sacré-Coeur Basilica (or Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Paris) stands 129 m (423 ft) above the River Seine, resting atop Paris’ highest point over the Montmartre hill.
“Montmartre” literally stands for “hill of all martyrs” and it is believed that here is where Saint Denis, first bishop of Paris, was martyred. According to the myth, after Saint Denis was beheaded, he took his severed head and carried it with him up north, where the suburb of Saint-Denis lies today.
The Basilica was built over the remains of a great Benedictine abbey that used to sit atop Montmartre, destroyed during the French Revolution. Later, after France was defeated during the Franco-Prussian War, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica’s construction was decided as a guilt offering to redeem the ‘Communards’ from their sins. Communards, back then, referred to those loyal to the socialist government that ruled over the city of Paris before coming to an end with the death of 17,000 Paris defenders. This is what makes the Sacré-Coeur Basilica a controversial monument, even until this day and age.
Paul Abadie was chosen to be the architect of the Basilica, winning over 77 other applicants. The Sacre-Coeur Basilica was built between 1875 and 1919 in Roman-Byzantine style and out of travertine stone quarried from Châteu-Landon (Seine-et-Merne). This stone is responsible for the building’s eternal whiteness: it constantly exudes calcite, making sure that the basilica remains its original colour even with weathering and pollution.
Sacre-Coeur Basilica’s practically square base is adorned by a huge dome and 7 chapels; the central dome is around 80 m (262 ft) high – 200 m (656 ft) over Paris – and offers yet another of Paris’ most spectacular views. The Basilica’s huge bell tower encloses France’s biggest bell, the Savoyarde, which has a 3 m (almost 10 ft) wide diameter and weighs over 18 tons.
Inside Sacre-Coeur, look out for one of the world’s largest mosaics (hint: it’s on the ceiling!). Representing Jesus Christ’s Sacred Heart and entitled Christ in Majesty, its 475m2 of glass are simply breathtaking. And before you even go inside, don’t miss Saint Joan of Arc’s and King Saint Louis IX’s statues guarding the entrance.
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica continues to offer perpetual adoration of the blessed Catholic sacraments ever since 1885 and many travellers make a point of stopping by to pray. The Basilica therefore asks tourists to refrain from taking pictures inside and that everyone remains quiet out of respect for people who are praying.
The Basilica is built over a crypt that is definitely worth visiting: it contains impressive statues of saints and a relic that some believe to be the very Sacred Heart (Sacré-Coeur) of Christ. And walking over to the Sacré-Coeur’s rear grounds, make sure you find its meditation garden and fountain for some well-deserved quiet time.
In order to get there, walk through the charming streets of the Montmartre neighbourhood and them climb the stairs up to the Basilica. If you’re not in the mood for walking, use the funicular that’ll get you there in just under 2 minutes.
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