It’s kind of hard to believe that Parisians mostly hate the Sacré-Cœur Basilica with its pure off-white stone and massive domed towers in a Romano-Byzantine style entirely uncommon in France. It’s quite pretty, but its history… not so much.
It occupies prime real estate as it is positioned at the very top of a hill drenched in both religious history and the blood of the Paris Commune. Members were slaughtered by loyalists to the establishment (including the actual French Army) during the 1871 communist uprising.
The Catholic Church, siding NOT with the Communards but with the loyalists to the existing power structure (basically Napoleon III at that point, although he was deposed), had the neighborhood bulldozed (or whatever counted as bulldozing in 1871, maybe lots and lots of horses with shovels? Dynamite?) to not only build a triumphalist monument for the defeat of the Communards, but also to spark the revival of traditional, Catholic values in a world that had become sullied with the Communards’ blasphemies. These included foul atrocities such as the abolition of child labor, the separation of church and state, and the right of workers to take over a business deserted by it’s owner. You know, the kind of crazy Stalinesque stuff that would have Tucker Carlson’s face boiling even redder than that one time, or all of the times. Sacre Rouge!
So yeah, the « Basilica of the Sacred Heart » is an icon of architectural drama and balls-out class warfare.
Fortunately for appreciators of sassy architecture, hypocritical religion and the violent and brutal repression of the poors alike, this sacred and holy monument is open to the public on multiple levels.
The hike up to the top of the surrounding Montmartre neighborhood on which the Basilica stands can be intimidating (even the metro stations have an unholy series of staircases to climb), but if the resulting view of the city isn’t enough of a payoff, the peacefully silent interior and beautifully gilded and painted ceiling of the church might be. There’s also a funicular from the Square Louise Michel that will cut some of the climb but not all of it (take note, mobility-impaired).
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica has kept a nun on-duty constantly since 1875 (before construction was even completed) in a perpetual prayer of adoration of Christ; not one nun obv, because they pray in shifts. That’s a lot of time to contemplate razing a working-class neighborhood of people who fought for the abolition of child labor, but you do you, sister.
They also have a free overnight lodging in the convent for travelers who show up and need a place to crash. Kind of like if Jesus had an Airbnb but being an actual commie, you could crash there for free. In fact, this aspect is actually the most Christ-like thing about the whole place. These guys really need to pick a side and stay there because their philosophy is kind of bewildering, to be honest.
You summitted the Eiffel Tower? Well I slept in the Sacré-Cœur Basilica (Mic drop)…
Oh, and in 1971, the French Communists seized the Basilica and occupied it for a month, calling for a worldwide communist uprising. They held the nuns hostages and everything.
Fun fact: I was once in the same situation, but it was a McDonald’s that a protest group ‘seized’ and I thought, « Well, well, well, how embarrassing. I’m in a hostage situation in a McDonalds in Paris ». They let us go, by the way. It was mostly symbolic.
But back in 1971, Parisians were too busy getting salty over the marring of their lovely skyline with the Awful Tower, AKA the Montparnasse Tower (hated by everyone except photographers who can use it to get really bomb shots of the Eiffel Tower), so they kind of were like, « Mmmmkay, » to the Occupy Sacré-Cœur thing.
The commies eventually slunk off to go do other commie stuff like create a beloved, universal, government-run healthcare system that is among the best in the world. I feel so oppressed every time my prescription medication co-pay is like 2€ that I can barely type right now. Stalin would certainly be pleased. Freedom isn’t free, even if the ambulance ride is.
But! Back to visiting! If your legs don’t cry out for mercy by the time you reach the entrance of the Basilica, you can climb to the top of the highest dome for a truly special view of the city and an up-close look at the intricate architecture along the way.
Fair warning, however, here is another climb that is not for the faint of heart. It’s 300 steps in a narrow, closed in, and winding staircase, with no elevator. What would Jesus do? CARDIO, baby. That’s why his heart is typically represented on fire, outside his body, just like everyone who climbs the Butte Montmartre (shoutout to my Polish grandparents for this totally not-traumatizing image on the wall of the actual bedroom).
Address: 1 Parvis du Sacré-Cœur, 18th arrondissement
Opening times: Everyday from 6 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. (last entry at 10.15 p.m. for visitors). The dome (access from the left side of the basilica) is open from 9 a.m. — 8.30 p.m. from June to September; 9.30 a.m. ‑7 p.m. from March to April; 10 p.m. ‑5.30 p.m. from November to February.
How to book tickets to visit Sacré-Cœur
Admire the view and explore the church for free. It costs €6 to climb to the bell tower (temporarily closed but check their website for updates).