Sacre Coeur

High atop Montmarte Hill in northern Paris, you'll find the Basilique de Sacre Coeur - or Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Perched lovingly on the city's highest point, the church is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Paris, due mainly to the panoramic view of the city from the Basilica's forecourt and dome - the only spot further above sea level is the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower. Here you'll get a picturesque glimpse of Paris, a vast sea of bleached rooftops as far as the eye can see - it's especially impressive at sunset, or when the sky is the deep blue of summer.

Basilique du Sacre Coeur De Montmarte
Basilique du Sacre Coeur De Montmarte

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is relatively new, constructed in the late 1800s, but the architectural style was an intentional throwback to the ancient Romano-Byzantine designs that are still preserved all across Southern France. Its construction was, in part, to honor the many French that died during the French Revolution and the Franco-Prussian War - and also to help restore the faith of a struggling people during such trying times. Thus, plans for the Basilique de Sacre Couer were begun. The top of Montmarte Hill had long been a place of worship, no matter who was ruling the land - from the Druids to the Gauls to the earliest Romans - it was just a matter of time before the site was updated with a Christian symbol.

Though one of the most famous tourist attractions in Paris, the church is consciously scaled back, the cavernous interior meant to generate humility, not majesty. It was also a statement against the excesses of the Baroque style that was still popular at the time when construction on the Basilique de Sacre Couer began. Nevertheless, it still features one or two ornate touches - from the yawning stained glass installations (reconstructed after World War II) to one of the largest mosaics in the world. Located in the apse, Christ's magnanimous arms stretch from one side to the other. Another standard was set by the church's enormous bell tower - built to contain a 19 ton bell, it is one of the world's largest.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is open every day until 11 pm (one of the more convenient tourist attractions in Paris), and still holds mass on Sundays. Just get off the Metro at Pigalle station, walk the stone stairway up to the church, and take in the great view of one of the most beautiful cities imaginable.

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