The spectacular tapestry of architectural feats dispersed throughout Paris is sparsely rivaled by the rest of the world’s great cities. Aside from l'Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower, there is one other building that dominates the Parisian skyline, which is usually on the first-timers’ list of places to visit. That is, the crowning jewel on the hill of martyrs: the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.
Designed as a place of pilgrimage by architect Paul Abadie, the Romano-Byzantine styled concept (which outshone seventy-seven other proposals also competing for the contract) lends an impression that the Basilica has stood solidly in place for many centuries. Surprisingly, the final stone was set in place one hundred years ago, in 1914, after nearly forty years of construction.
The Sacré-Coeur is difficult to miss, positioned atop the highest point in the city at the summit of the Butte Montmartre, this important landmark can be seen from all over Paris. Apart from its architectural form and extensive gardens, a stunning bleach white exterior makes the building stand out among its urban counterparts. This effect was achieved and maintained through the ingenious use of travertine stone as the primary construction material. Sourced from quarries in Château-Landon, this mineral based rock excretes calcite every time it rains, so the Basilica retains a polished white surface that is unblemished by pollution levels and natural weathering processes.
For me, the most intriguing feature of the Basilica was the small legion of water-channel gargoyles that flank the outer sides of the building, easily the most elaborate and opulent form of exterior plumbing I have ever encountered. The icicle breathing gargoyle (pictured above) may captivate the imagination, but it also illustrates how these menacing carvings were traditionally used to direct water away from a building.
Upon venturing inside, however, one's initial sense of awe for the magnificent works of mosaic and stained glass decoration is somewhat subdued by the blatant inclusion of commercial elements within the church; such as the incorporated gift shop and vending machines that offer tacky coin souvenirs.
How to get there:
Take the metro to Jules Joffrin, then hop on the Montmartrobus and stop at Place du Tertre.
Alternatively, stations Anvers and Abbesses are even closer and are both just a short walk away from the base of the Basilica, where you can catch the Funicular to the top.
Traveling by bus is a great way to get around Paris: Routes 30, 31, 80 and 85 each take you right to the base of the Basilica.
When to visit:
The Basilica is open everyday all year round from 6am to 10.30pm.
For five euro you can access stunning views of the city from the top of the dome from 9am to 7pm (6pm in winter).
The Basilica shop follows regular business hours and is open every day of the week save Monday.