Place du Tertre. This small, unassuming square, is the aorta of historic Montmartre village. A tangle of narrow, winding, cobbled arteries, lead towards it’s centre. For decades the Place du Tertre has been synonymous with artists, writers, poets and chanteuses. It’s here, on this wild, squally hilltop, overlooking the city of Paris that Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Suzanne Valadon, Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec and Dali made their home.
Once physically distinct from the capital, Montmartre was an insignificant village of vineyards, small holdings and windmills. Lacking the price tag of more salubrious neighbourhoods, Montmartre offered disrepute and accordingly cheap rent along with an exemption from Paris’s wine tax. It provided the perfect refuge for artisans, misfits, dreamers and prolific drinkers during the Belle Époque. A bohemian sub culture thrived here at the turn of the century in a pre war atmosphere of infinite possibility.
Small holdings were gradually replaced by cafes, raucous cabaret and restaurants. Open air cafes became a mecca for people to meet, debate, philosophise and dance late into the night under the auspices of a moon blanched Basilica. The twinkling, creative folklore of Montmartre was born.
At over 130 metres above sea level, this is the highest hill in Paris. Cradled in the centre of Montmartre village, under the protective gaze of the calcite Basilica. The square, along with the alleys surrounding it are colonised by artists and tourists from dawn until dusk. Cafes, terraces, and restaurants flank each side of the Place du Tertre. Uniform red and blue gingham covered tables, Paris goblets and traditional rattan bistro chairs line the adjacent pavements. Nearby, La Maison Rose, Le Lapin and Renoir’s house still stand, along with a small vineyard. All of them, observing the daily carnival of tourists filing by as they head to the square. Get here early enough and you’re usually guaranteed a side show photo shoot with the square featuring as an illustrious backdrop.
Place du Tertre & The Artists Waiting List
All artists must apply for a permit to work in the square. Applications are made at the Marie du 18e Arrondissement (Town Hall) further down the hill at Jules Joffrin. Spaces are scarce and there is rumoured to be over a ten year waiting list. It’s a slow and bureaucratic process to be granted permission to work in the square where Picasso used to walk his dog.
Each pitch consists of a one square metre space allocated per artist. The artisanal tradition continues albeit a far cry from the spontaneity and saw dust days of Lautrec and Gauguin. Day after day the square vibrates with the creative energy of almost 300 artists working, easels back to back, painting and sketching on demand.
Climb the steep flights of Montmartre steps leading up to the Sacre Coeur at the break of day and you’ll find artists setting up their pitches in the Place du Tertre. Ladened with easels, canvases, bags and paints striding towards the square before the tourists start to surface. Sometimes they’ll stop and chat, or nod to each other as they pass by.
This once anonymous square, owned by the Abbey of Montmartre has spent a lifetime reinventing itself to the cadence of history’s churn. As host to the Cossacks in the late 1700s. A meeting place for revolutionary leader’s during the late 18th century. The site of Renault’s inaugural test drive rattling, shaking and bumping over it’s cobbled streets. A magnet for the proliferation of artists, writers, visionaries and poets during La Belle Epoque. It has survived two World Wars, intact. Now it watches over the rooftops of the capital, waiting to see what will be the next incarnation of this ancient aorta.