The Glorious Sacre Coeur Basilica

An upward view of the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmarte in Paris, France.

The glorious Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré Cœur, is a sublime Roman Catholic church situated atop Montmartre in Paris.

With 11.5 million visitors annually Sacré Cœur is France’s most widely visited church.

Situated atop the hill of Montmartre, 130 meters above sea level, Sacré Cœur was built in Romanesque-Byzantine style between 1875 and 1914.

Sacre Coeur Meaning

After just a few minutes of research you’ll discover some of the rich and colorful history associated with Sacré Cœur Basilica, the construction of which was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

There’s a deep and complex history associated with the Basilica and the site has long been associated with religious and spiritual practices.

It’s believed that, during pagan times, druids had worshipped here. What’s more the Romans built temples on this site that they dedicated to Mars and Mercury.

According to legend the Romans beheaded St. Denis, the Patron Saint of Paris on the hill of Montmartre.

Visiting Sacré Coeur

I visited Sacre Coeur Basilica on a warm August day. With many hundreds of visitors the line to get into this famous Montmartre basilica was both long and slow moving.

But it was worth it. Despite the crowds, and the fact that photography is not permitted inside, a visit to Sacré Cœur is an opportunity for folks visiting Paris that should not be missed.

Architecturally the Sacré Cœur is quite spectacular. The outside is grand while the inside is extraordinarily beautiful.

Despite the crowds it’s hard not to be impressed with the immense sense of space within this famous Montmartre Basilica.

I remember being moved by the deep sense of devotion evident amongst many of those visiting Sacre Coeur.

Sacre Coeur Opening Hours

Sacré Cœur offers very generous opening hours for tourist and local alike.

The Basilica is open every day from 6am until 10:30pm. Entrance into Sacré Cœur is free, though it costs 5 euros to climb the 300 steps to the dome.

There are no guided tours of the interior of the Basilica. The reason given is to ensure silence is maintained for prayer.

However, with the exception of Mondays, you’ll find a Benedictine Sister on duty at the reception desk to answer any questions you may have.

A view up towards the domes and stautes that feature so dominantly on the exterior of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, France.

Sacré Cœur View | The White church Of Paris

The stones used in the construction of Sacré Cœur come from Chateau-Landon, a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region of France.

Within Chateau-Landon is the Souppes-sur-Loing quarry where the bright white travertine stones used in the construction of Sacré Cœur were sourced.

In wet weather the high calcite content in the stone acts like bleach to give the church its distinctive chalky white appearance.

The sky was mostly overcast during my visit to Sacré Cœur. While an all white sky can be quite bland in a photo, it’s nice to have at least some clouds to break up the uniform nature of an all blue sky.

I was lucky in so much as a storm was brewing. That produced variation in the density of the clouds which helped to separate them from each other and allowed them to better stand out against the sky.

Cloud cover may not always produce compelling skies, but it does produce a larger, softer light source than would be the case photographing under direct sunlight.

The quality of the light that’s emitted through an overcast sky is both soft and expressive.

Soft light produces lower dynamic range which extends your ability to record details in highlights and shadows that might otherwise be lost under brighter and less diffuse lighting.

It was the soft light that enabled me to hold so much of the delicate detail within the light tone stone of the famous Sacré Cœur Basilica.

If you’re photographing the exterior of the Basilica under direct, bright sunlight you may want to place a polarizing filter in front of your lens.

Once attached simply spin the filter to reduce any reflections coming off the surface of the stone. This should allow you to retain as much delicate highlight detail as possible.

 

Stained glass window in a small chapel next to the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, France.

 

How I Made Photos At Sacre Coeur Basilica

Because it’s such an immensely popular tourist destination I was both surprised and disappointed not to be permitted to make photographs inside the Sacré Cœur Basilica.

As a travel photographer that was my intention for visiting the Basilica and I needed to find a way, without breaking the rules, that would allow me to do so.

I entered a small chapel to the side of the cathedral where I was able to photograph unhindered.

However, I was careful not to move onto the altar area and to move out of the way when more devout pilgrims entered the space. I think it's important to be respectful of the needs of others at such times.

I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for my own experience, as a photographer, to be slightly compromised to ensure the experience of other visitors is not adversely affected by my presence.

Sometimes I have to wait a long time to make my photos. But when I get an opportunity my experience allows me to be able to make photos in a quick, efficient and discrete manner.

Finally I moved outside to try and make an image of the front of the Sacré Cœur.

The main steps leading up the hill to the front entrance were full of people. I moved around to one side of the Basilica to find space and a vantage point from where I could make photos that better explored the shapes of the domes and towers.

This helped to provide a more three dimensional view of the cathedral, as illustrated at the top of this post.

The trees were interesting as they added color and texture to the scene yet, I suspect, in most people’s photos they’d act as a visual barrier to the Basilica.

I positioned myself so that the trees were, roughly, of equal importance in the frame to the Basilica. That’s the key consideration in the composition that underpins the picture at the very top of this post.

On the desktop I worked to ensure the color and texture of those trees was emphasized.

 

Light shines threw a stained glass window and adds streaks of color to the stone floor of a chapel in Paris, France.

 

My Time At The Glorious Sacre Coeur Basilica

It was the very last day of a fantastic six week trip and, frankly, I was exhausted. I really had to push hard on that final day.

I decided that a tourist ride on an open-air, double decker bus would wake me up. It was fun and I had a hoot making photos from the top deck of that bus.

The final site on my list was a visit to Sacré Cœur Basilica that afternoon where, despite large crowds and significant photography restrictions, I had a great time and managed to make some interesting photos.

I’d definitely recommend a visit to Sacré Cœur Basilica for anyone visiting Paris. If you’re there during Summer it’s probably wise to arrive at the Basilica early or late in the day.

Hopefully less people arriving during those times will ensure your own visit is peaceful and without stress.

I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to Europe on several occasions and often think about my next trip.

With so much to see and do there’s always a good chance that Paris will, once again, find its way onto my travel itinerary.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru