Paris officials voted on Tuesday to give the hilltop basilica of Sacré-Coeur official “historic monument” status – defined as “a building or space which has been classified or registered in order to protect it, because of its historical or artistic interest.”
It might come as a surprise to many that the popular tourist attraction was not already protected as a historic monument – but the process has proved controversial, and that is because of the building’s history.
Unlike the ancient monuments of Notre-Dame (opened in 1345) or Saint-Chapelle (opened in 1248) Sacré-Coeur is relatively modern with construction only beginning in 1873.
Construction began just two years after the fall of the Paris Commune – which lasted from March to May 1871 – and on an important site for the Commune, which situated cannons on the hilltop in Montmarte to aid them in taking Paris.
And for many on the left it remains a symbol of the conflict between the Communards and the authorities.
“The building, from the start, was emblematic of opinions of fringe, ultra-Catholics” who wanted “to quell a neighbourhood that had been considered insurrectionist in the northeast of Paris,” explained Eric Fournier, a lecturer at the University of Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne to Le Parisien.
Since then, it has continued to be associated with the repressive “moral order” of that time, and has remained a source of controversy in Paris – even though the green light has now been given, Communists on Paris city council voted against it for this reason.
The year 2021 marked exactly 150 years after the Paris Commune, and the thought of classifying Sacré-Coeur as a monument at that time was rejected by Communists on the City Council, who said it would be a “deep attack against the action of the Communards,” according to Le Parisien.
They maintained this stance this week, but the vote was eventually passed.
However, for city councillor Karen Taïeb, the classification of the monument goes beyond historical facts. “It is not a question of forgetting the Paris Commune,” she said. “It is a question of recognising the heritage character of the building.”
Three are others who simply think that the building is ugly – French author Emile Zola expressed his disdain for the basilica in his book Paris, calling it a “slap in the face of reason” that was “built to glorify the absurd.”
More recently some “anti-Sacré-Cœur” militants have asked for it to be demolished, calling it a “wart” while its nickname is the “Alabaster wedding cake”.
Although we should point out that both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Pyramid have also been the focus of determined campaigns of outrage from Parisians lambasting them as eyesores.