Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre

The Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre—more often than not simply referred to as Sacré-Coeur—stands tall on one of the highest elevations in all of Paris. Famous for its white limestone exterior, large central dome, and spectacular views available to visitors who climb to the top of the basilica via 300 steps, Sacré-Coeur has become one of Paris’s most popular tourist attractions.

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History of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre

The large hill that rises in the 18th arrondissement of Paris at the northern edge of the city is known as Montmartre, or the “Mount of Martyrs.” Montmartre has long held significant religious importance, having been a site of worship for the Druids and home to a Roman temple for centuries; it’s also where the oldest church in Paris can still be found today: Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, which dates to the early twelfth century and is located just across the street from Sacré-Coeur.

In the wake of France’s military defeat during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, many prominent church officials blamed the country’s misfortunes on a society-wide spiritual decline (as opposed to, say, political problems). As a result, a movement calling for the construction of a new church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus grew in stature over the next few years. The project was approved by the legislature in 1873, and Montmartre was chosen as the site for the new basilica on account of its religious history and commanding elevation. Work began in 1875, the basilica was inaugurated in 1891, its famous dome was completed in 1899, and the crowning belltower added in 1912. The Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre was formally consecrated in 1919.

Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre Highlights

The Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre is a fascinating architectural accomplishment. Primarily designed by the architect Paul Abadie, Sacré-Coeur stands out among the many other religious sites of Paris on account of its Romano-Byzantine stylings; as opposed to the medieval Gothic designs of Sainte-Chapelle and Notre-Dame, Sacré-Coeur is inspired by Basilica di San Marco in Venice and Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia.

The striking exterior of Sacré-Coeur is made of a travertine limestone quarried from Château-Landon in north-central France that is famous for excreting calcite when hit by water—which explains the basilica’s distinctive white color. Inside Sacré-Coeur, you’ll want to take time to admire the 5,000-square-foot mosaic covering the church’s apse. This colorful work is considered one of the largest mosaics in the world, and was finished by the artists Luc-Olivier Merson, H. M. Magne, and R. Martin in 1923. It took nearly 20 years to create.

For many visitors, the biggest highlight of a trip to Sacré-Coeur is the chance to see the beauty of Paris from a whole new perspective. That’s because guests are permitted to climb to the top of Sacré-Coeur’s central dome, which offers incredible views of the city from a great height (Montmartre itself is 430 feet high, while Sacré-Coeur stands another 270 feet tall). Be advised, though: there are 300 stairs to get to the top of Sacré-Coeur, and the basilica doesn’t have an elevator.

More to See and Do at the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre

Here are a few more things to know about the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre as you prepare to visit it.

•Sacré-Coeur’s grand organ was built by the legendary Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the same individual responsible for the impressive organ found at Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis.

•There are no guided tours of Sacré-Coeur available to the public. However, for those so interested, there are free audio guides that provide useful contextual information on the attraction that can be downloaded straight to your phone.

•The Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre contains a small religious shop where visitors can purchase a variety of souvenirs, pilgrimage mementos, and religious items. These objects include rosaries, engravings, crucifixes, medals, paper goods, and more. If you have your eye on something here, you should buy it: the Sacré-Coeur gift shop doesn’t sell anything online.

•Sacré-Coeur is an active church; accordingly, it may be closed from time to time for religious services and ceremonial observances. Likewise, it occasionally hosts choral concerts and musical recitals. For more information on possible closings and special events, be sure to check out the basilica’s official website in advance of your visit.

Why the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre Should Be on Your Must-See List

The only elevations in the city of Paris that can rival the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre are the Eiffel Tower and Montparnasse Tower. As spectacular as the views on display from those two attractions are, it’s difficult to beat the panoramic perspective of Paris available to visitors who trek all the way to the top of Sacré-Coeur at the northern edge of the city. Throw the enchanting Byzantine-inspired architecture into the mix and it’s easy to see why so many visitors to Paris put this beautiful basilica on their must-see list.