Whenever you find yourself in Paris, a visit to the Place du Tertre is a must see and experience event. It began as a local village square and grew into the humming and heaving location that it is today throughout the summer months. It lies just behind the magnificent Cathedral of Sacre Coeur, right on the top of the hill in the district of Montmartre. ‘Place’ means public square and ‘Tertre’ means small hill or butte. It rests 130 meters above the base level and used to be the heartland of the historic Benedictine Montmartre Abbey.
The Place du Tertre is an active and vigorous centre of commercial artistic talent and classic Parisian café and restaurant life. It draws in masses of cosmopolitan visitors during the sunny months in their hoards. It is a little kitsch but so is much of Montmartre in other corners. It is easy to feel that you have come to the ‘right place’.
The artistic activities going on in the Place du Tertre will steal your concentration and maybe almost your soul. About 300 artists occupy their rented one square metre space. They erect their easels and their painting pallets and go about their creative business from around 10 am almost until dusk. There are about 150 spaces occupied by two artists each working on alternate days. They produce portraits, silhouettes and cartoons to order and the business flows in constantly. The tourists ask for them and the square is covered with the self-conscious faces of families and children having to sit still as the originators go about their work. Ask for whatever you want and from whichever artist you fancy.
The artists draw family groups or individuals in plain style. They can also do them in silhouette or humorous caricature form. They exhibit examples of their previous work around their easels which often include Paris street scenes. Most of the artists are extraordinarily talented. They have to be to earn the right to rent the space in the first place. They are required to submit examples of past work to the town hall authorities for scrutiny before they are able to begin. There is currently a ten year waiting list.
A hand drawn portrait in any form makes a wonderful souvenir of a Paris visit. The prices vary. They come anywhere from 25 to 100 Euros but I think that they are worth it. Agree the price before the artist starts his work though. In addition to a drawing talent, many of them have a good eye for a buck as well.
The original artistic foundation for the Place du Tertre comes from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This part of Paris offered many opportunities for famous artists to come and work and live. A number of these talented people spent periods living in the Montmartre district. They included Picasso, Renoir, Dali, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Modigliani and others too. The culture of contemporary art was being stamped into the district’s genes.
All four sides of the square around the artistic centre support a throbbing range of always overly full classic Gallic restaurants, cafés and bars. Look for the old and celebrated Café Chez la Catherine, La Cremaillere and La Boheme du Tertre. The quality of the food that everybody seems to be enjoying is sometimes of modest quality but, in traditional French style, the prices are designed for the tourist market.
The French term ‘Bistro’ started from earlier days in the Place du Tertre. It originated during the Russian occupation of Paris in 1814. The Cossack soldiers would often take a drink in the cafés before their little battles. They would call ‘Bystro’, meaning quickly, before they were ordered to fight. The term Bistro has stuck ever since all over France.
Find the classically quaint shops around the edges of the square. There are quite a number selling many great art works in print form and other souvenirs of Paris at prices that appeal to the tourists. All of these boutiques, restaurants, bistros and busily working artists plying their trade all contribute to the rich and vigorous culture of the Place du Tertre.
The top of Montmartre and the Place du Tertre are not the easiest locations to arrive at. They rest at the peak of the highest hill in Paris. You can find them by trekking up a steep slope that seems to go on for ever. Then you are faced with many concrete steps to the base of Sacre Coeur and then have to wander around the side streets to find the artists square. The Metro station at Abbesses though will take you almost to the start of a funicular railway. This will take you up to the base of Sacre Coeur where you can join a cute little train with a couple of carriages to run you around the streets. The children with you will love it.
On Christmas Eve in 1898, Louis Renault drove up the steep hill to the Place du Tertre in one of his new motor cars. This started off the French motor industry and contributed to the district’s culture
If you visit the Place du Tertre, you will find it totally absorbing and so full of people enjoying their touristy rounds. Watch the prices but admire so much the artwork going on. I think the drawings and paintings display a very high end talent possessed by their creators. Many of the artists have led previous professional lives in the finest media journals of Europe and beyond.
Art and cooking are synonymous with Parisian and nationwide French culture. Admire all that is on offer.