-by Victoria Yule
Montmartre was essential to the Commune. It was the birthplace of Communard ideology, and the culture and people of Montmartre were essential to the overall success of the uprising. Also known as the 18th arrondissement, this neighbourhood is located on a hill at the northern edge of Paris. Montmartre is the epicentre of popular Bohemian culture; it was very artistic during the Commune and retains this artistic culture today. Bohemian culture consists of socially unconventional people who are involved in the arts such as painting, poetry, music and acting.1 Between the 1860s and 1870s, two cafes were founded along the Boulevard de Clichy, La Nouvelle Athens and Café Guerbois, frequented by painter Édouard Manet and his group.2 Many bohemian poets, musicians, humourists, and other artists performed in these cafes. Bourgeois Parisians could feel safe in Montmartre cafés while still indulging themselves with the illusion of visiting the lower classes.
In 1860, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann had a plan to reorganize Paris and bring Montmartre into the districts of Paris.3 The chief administrator of Paris had a plan in the 1850s and 1860s to advance the business interests of the bourgeoisie by redesigning the city to transport goods, people, and money rapidly.4 As a by-product of “Haussmannization,” there were 80,000 new apartments built, but these new buildings asked for much higher rents. This divided Paris into the middle and upper class West and working class East.5 In the 1860s, Haussmann tore down the wall separating Montmartre that was built around Paris in 1780 to collect taxes on all goods coming into Paris.6 The changes that Haussmann implemented changed Montmartre’s population in 1857 to consist of tavern keepers, restaurant owners, many clerks, and workers, along with many retirees.7
The new population of the 18th arrondissement was considered both economically and socially more radical than the other districts of Paris.8 On March 18, 1871 both the bourgeois and working classes in Montmartre supported the uprising.9 The Commune elections on March 26, 1871 brought out many middle-class voters from the districts. In the weeks after the uprising, the Commune became a working-class regime.
In the years following the Commune, Montmartre remained the Bohemian centre of Paris.10 There were many entertainment establishments that opened such as the Chat Noir that showed many theatre events. In 1889, the Moulin Rouge opened and took over the clientele from the Chat Noir and other Bohemian sites. The Moulin Rouge was so popular that it is still open and functioning today. By the 1890’s Montmartre was filled with Bohemian artists. Modern-day Montmartre makes a powerful cultural impression…what also made Montmartre so crucial during the Commune..11
from the archive
This photograph is of the canons on top of Montmartre. On March 18th, 1871. Thiers had demanded that the canons be removed from Montmartre because the Siege of Paris had ended two months prior. Tensions in Montmartre after the siege rose and the working-class people of Montmartre did not agree with Thiers’ actions. It was eight o’clock in the morning when soldiers tried to take the canons. Surrounded by women, children, and men of Paris many of them put the butt-ends of their muskets up. General Lecomte commanded his men to open fire, but they just stood there. That morning he and his officers were arrested. These events lead to the killing of General Lecomte and General Thomas. At the other end of Montmartre, General Paturel had tried to carry the canons away with horses. However, he had been stopped by a living barricade in the Rue Lepic.12
The events of March 18th, 1871 were the birth of the Paris Commune. The chaos that transpired in Montmartre on March 18th allowed for the birth of the Paris Commune. It was essential that the remainder of the French military was forced back to Versailles because this allowed the Commune to begin. The cannons in the picture symbolize the strength and determination that the working people of Montmartre displayed on March 18th, 1871. The retaking of the cannons was the reason that the Commune began because the people of Montmartre rebelled against Thiers and his conservative government.13
1. Nicholas Hewitt, “The Changing Landscape of Montmartre,” Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association 96, no. 1 (2001): 12, https://doi.org/10.1179/aulla.2001.96.1.002.
2. Hewitt, “The Changing Landscape of Montmartre,” 12.
3. Brian Nelson, “The Remaking of Paris: Zola and Haussmann,” The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Paris, January 2013: 3, https://doi.org/10.1017/cco9780511793363.008.
4. Nelson, “The Remaking of Paris,” 3.
5. Nelson, “The Remaking of Paris,” 3.
6. “Montmartre the Beating Bohemian Heart of Belle Époque Paris,” Montmartre Artists’ Studios, March 10, 2021, https://montmartrefootsteps.com/montmartre-historical-cultural-context/.
7. Nicholas Hewitt, Montmartre: a Cultural History (S.l.: Liverpool University Press, 2020): 22.
8. Gay L. Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996): 42.
9. Jerrold Seigel, Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life 1830-1930 (New York NY etc: Penguin, 1986): 207.
10. Seigel, Bohemian Paris, 207.
11. Seigel, Bohemian Paris, 339.
12. Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, History of the Paris Commune of 1871, (London, New York: Verso Books, 2012).
3 thoughts on “montmartre”
Love this post about Montmartre and the Commune! It takes me back to my days writing my MA thesis on the Chat Noir and the cabarets and artists of the counterculture… It’s inspiring to think of the energy and creativity that has bubbled up from this neighbourhood at various times in history!
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Victoria, congratulations on this post! I really enjoyed reading it 🙂
I have such mixed feeling with that Montmartre icon–the Sacré Coeur.
On the one hand, it was a literal effort to colonize that space and control the memory of the Commune (an “expiation for its sins)–so the most reactionary of symbols. On the other hand, it’s become so representative of the Parisian landscape, and it’s hard to imagine the city without it these days.