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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of the Place du Tertre in Paris

What is the Place du Tertre?

The Place du Tertre is a small cobbled square in the heart of Montmartre and hangout of artists and buskers.

Place du Tertre artists

Place du Tertre History

The bustling Place du Tertre is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Paris, along with the beautiful Basilique du Sacré-Cœur located just a few blocks away. You stand in the heart of the bohemian 18th, the arrondissement favoured by artists since the late 19th century.

The square is named for its position on Montmartre Hill (tertre means ‘little hill’) in an area which has always been associated with ‘high’ art and ‘lower’ forms of entertainment. Before it became part of the City of Paris, Montmartre was a pleasant hilltop village, surrounded by vineyards, windmills and little farms. Artists found it attractive partly because of the beautiful and inspiring views from the tertre’s summit, and (more prosaically) also because rents were much more affordable and local wine was exempt from the Parisian wine-tax.

During the Belle Époque, the storied golden age in France which spanned 30 years from the 1880s to the start of the First World War, many struggling artists settled in the village. They included Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and their artistic community flourished. The area became known for its lively cabaret culture, which can still be appreciated in Montmartre; the world-famous Moulin Rouge is not far from where you stand.

Place du Tertre street sign

Place du Tertre is still very much an artistic area of Paris, where you will find artists and their easels packing the square. Some sell souvenir paintings of Paris’s highlights; others offer quick on-the-spot portraits and playful cut-out silhouettes. Each artist is allocated just one square metre of space which they can only use on alternate days, in order to allow as many artists as possible to showcase their talents. Competition for the 140 places is fierce and it is rumoured that the waiting list for a spot on the square is in excess of ten years.

Another surprising aspect of the square is that it is home to the very first Parisian Bistro. The legend originates in the early 19th century when Russian forces occupied Paris after Napoleon’s forces surrendered at the Battle of Paris in 1814. Victorious occupying soldiers were in the habit of shouting bistro (Russian for ‘quickly’) when ordering their drinks. The name stuck and the bistro, which today refers to restaurants serving quick, tasty meals (sometimes of extraordinary quality), was born.

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