Rue des Martyrs: “ A half mile of magic” says New York Times writer.
I keep an ongoing list of places to visit called “Next Trip Paris.” Rue des Martyrs was on this list for a number of years, unfortunately not making the cut until last fall.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, it’s a nice street in Paris that winds through two arrondissements from just northeast of Galleries Lafayatte up to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. Typically it is off the tourist track, visited only by Parisians and seasoned travelers who have already been to the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees.
It was relatively undiscovered until a couple of years ago when the New York Times Bureau Chief, wrote a book about the street and her adventures there called The Only Street in Paris—Life on the Rue des Martyrs.
This book chronicles the shop keepers, cafe owners and their ups and downs. Entertaining.
History of Rue des Martyrs
The history of the street is long and full of drama. It is named for Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris in 250. According to the legend, Saint Denis miraculously picked up his head after he was beheaded and walked for miles before dying. Truly a martyr.
Later the novelist Emile Zola gave the rue des Martyrs a juicy image of scandal, making the street a backdrop to prostitution and lesbianism.
It’s rumored that Thomas Jefferson hung out here. It’s locals have been painted by van Gogh, Picasso, Lautrec and Dali.
Great Local Shopping
I loved the cute cafes and many shops, many of which are full of vintage and second hand stuff. It is fruitful place to poke around to find some unexpected treasure.
Interestingly, Rue des Martyrs, together with 60 other Paris streets—enjoy local zoning protection by the city authorities. No multinational chain stores are permitted to move in. If one artisan business moves out, it can only be replaced with another.
Destination for Lively Clubs
We noted the many small theaters or clubs, the most famous is Cabaret Michou, Montmartres’s iconic drag cabaret. It was founded by a legendary nightlife entertainer, Michau who has been making a spectacle of himself for years. Didn’t get to attend a show but put it in my “Next trip to Paris” file. Stay tuned.
There are lots of churches in the area and this one fascinated me.
Elise Saint-Jean Evanseliste. Such unusual ornamentation. According to Wikipedia: “It is notable as the first example of reinforced concrete in church construction. Built from 1894 through 1904, the brick and ceramic tile-faced structure exhibits features of Art Nouveau design while exploiting the superior structural qualities of reinforced concrete with lightness and transparency.”
Wall of Love
The street ends in the tourist district of Abbesses where you can find this lovely wall showing all the ways to say I Love You. Created in 2000, Frédéric Baron dreamed about making a trip round the world dedicated to lovers. He created a mural with the words I Love You written in 250 languages.
I’ve often seen pictures of this work in guide books but never knew exactly where to find it What fun it was to turn the corner and see it tucked away in a cozy spot.