What is the Sacré-Cœur?
Sacré-Cœur is a late-19th-century Roman Catholic Church in Paris built to atone for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and for the wrongs done by the government in 1871.
Perched high on the hill in Montmarte, looking down over the city, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur is one of Paris’ most renowned landmarks. The Sacré-Cœur takes inspiration from Romano-Byzantine architecture, visibly similar to many of the churches you’d find across both Turkey and Italy. Designed by architect Paul Abadie, the church’s construction began in 1876, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War. It took nearly 40 years to build before being completed in 1914, and further consecrated just after the end of the First World War. The basilica’s name, which translates as ‘Sacred Heart’, comes from its dedication to the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, a symbol meant to represent the divine love that Jesus had for humanity.
The area on which this beautiful basilica was built had already been a place of worship since pagan times. Due to it being the highest point in the city, worshippers felt that here they could be closer to the gods. It is understood that Druids had worshipped here, whilst the ancient Romans had previously built temples on this spot.
There were both political and cultural reasons for the construction of Sacré-Cœur. Firstly, following the defeat of France in the Prussian war, it was agreed that a basilica was to be built in order to honour the lives of the people who had died. Similarly, a vow was made by the people of Paris to construct a church to atone for the crimes and sins made by the Commune of Paris, the revolutionary government that ruled in the wake of France’s defeat.
The building, amazingly enough, is able to repaint itself. The architect Abadie decided to create the basilica with a chalky stone that has the property of self-cleaning. Abadie sought out this specific type of travertine stone to ensure that Sacré-Cœur retained its pearly white colour. When it rains, this chalky substance breaks down and acts as a fresh coat of paint.
The interior of the basilica is no less impressive, with its walls extensively decorated with mosaics. In fact, if you look above the high altar you’ll see one of the largest mosaics in the world, a magnificent work by Luc-Olivier Merson depicting Christ robed in white against a vibrant blue background. His arms are spread, revealing the golden heart, as he is surrounded by adoring masses, including the Virgin and Joan of Arc.
After the Eiffel Tower, this is the second highest point in the capital, offering panoramic views of the cityscape – the perfect place from which to watch the lights of Paris come to life. This is a breathtakingly beautiful spot to visit, both inside and out.
Download the Urbs app today for walking tours of Paris.