More Shark Guides
With its down-beat cafés, bohemian brasseries and the odd dose of urban grit, Montparnasse isn't as fashionable as some Parisian neighbourhoods but certainly has the personality to make up for it. Think of the avant-garde heritage and pleasure-seeking spirit of Montmartre and Pigalle, minus the high prices and tourist hordes.
History of Montparnasse
Montparnasse derives its names from the nickname "Mount Parnassus"( i.e. the mythological hill where the Ancient Greek Muses of the arts resided), as it was christened during the 17th century by students who gathered there to recite their poetry.
The area was predominantly hilly until parts of it were levelled during the 18th century to make way for the Boulevard Montparnasse, where many cabaret theatres and dance halls opened their doors during the French Revolution.
Urbanisation following WWI shifted Montparnasse's demographic as many avant-garde artists left the increasingly gentrified neighbourhood of Montmartre for the workshops and studios of Montparnasse. The area's cheap living and rental prices also attracted an influx of foreign emigres, many of them from Eastern Europe and America.
During the 1920s in Paris, the Boulevard du Montparnasse developed into the area's creative hub, attracting the likes of Picasso, Modigliani, Chagall, Léger, Miro, Kandinsky, Stravinsky, Hemingway, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Arthur Mille, Jean Paul Satre, Lenin and Trostky.
WWII dispersed Montparnasse's artistic community and in the 1960s the area was redeveloped once again, this time to accommodate modern-looking structures like the Tour Montparnasse and the re-development of the Gare Montparnasse. The latter linked Paris to the west of France, bringing an air of Breton culture and cuisine to the area.
Things to Do in Montparnasse
Built in 1973, the modern-looking Tour Montparnasse is considered by many Parisians to be an eyesore. Yet few can argue with the claim that this 689 ft tall skyscraper is the city's best viewing point. Zip up to the 56th floor in just 38 seconds to admire some of Paris' most famous monuments from on high, including the Tour Eiffel. Relax with an elaborate cocktail in Le Bar Américain or leg it up to the open air terrace for wind-swept views from the 59th floor.
The Montparnasse Museum occupies the former studio of Russian cubist artist Marie Vassillief, displaying temporary exhibitions of Montparnasse's artists past and present. Regular visitors to the house between 1912 and 1929, when Vassillief lived there, included Picasso, Léger, Modigliani, Chagall and Braque.
Atop the sprawling Gare Montparnasse train station is the Jardin de l'Atlantique, whose 3.5 hectares of landscaped terraces form an unexpected oasis set high above the hubbub of the busy railway terminus. Completed in 1994, its boarded walkways and long grass plants are intended to evoke serene surroundings of the Atlantic coast.
The Catacombs of Paris are certainly not for the faint-hearted. They contain the exhumed bones of some 6 million deceased Parisians, whose remains were stored there from 1785 to relieve the city's overflowing cemeteries. Set 20m below street level, visitors can explore 1.7km of underground corridors, their walls embedded with the gruesomely grinning skulls.
Since 1824, the Cimetière du Montparnasse serves as a final resting place for many intellectual luminaries, including Charles Baudelaire, Guy de Maupassant, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alfred Dreyfus, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Man Ray, Serge Gainsburg and Susan Sontag.
Eating and Drinking in Montparnasse
The Boulevard du Montparnasse is home to a number of legendary brasseries who once thrived at the centre of 1920'S and 1930's Paris' cafe culture. Le Dome is an Art Deco extravaganza boasting the freshest of oysters, shellfish and fish dishes. La Coupole features mural-covered columns painted by Brancusi and Chagall, and a high, chandeliered roof that once captured the intellectual musings of Sartre, Soutine and Man Ray. And just a few steps away is La Rotonde, whose upmarket French cuisine is indulged in amid a riot of red velvet upholstery and brass.
For visitors looking to grab a reasonably-priced snack on the go, the Gare Montparnasse complex offers plenty of restaurants and cafes for peckish travellers, including crêpe houses for those looking for a taste of Montparnasse's Breton culture.
Getting to Montparnasse
Situated on the left bank of the River Seine, Montparnasse is located in the 14th arrondissement of south Paris. Its main train station is the Gare Montparnasse, with trains to Brittany and TGV services to Rennes, Tours, Bordeaux and Le Mans.
Montparnasse is served by several metro stations, with Montparnasse-Bienvenue, Vavin, Raspail and Edgar Quinet all located close to the Bouldevard du Montparnasse, the Gare Montparnasse and several other key sights.