With all the royal history in Paris, there are surprisingly few “castles” within the city limits. Of course there’s the Louvre and a handful of other grand palaces around the city, however, the once modest former village of Montmartre has an intriguing array of châteaux… in various forms. We head around the neighborhood to track them down.
Château des Brouillards
The best known “castle” of Montmartre is this 18th century folie, a type of country retreat popular with Parisian aristocrats at the time. Located at the corner of rues Girardon et de l’Abreuvoir and along the alley bearing its name, it was built in 1772 for Legrand Ducampjean, a lawyer of the Parliament of Paris. Apparently, it was named after the structure which previously stood here, the Moulin des Brouillards, one of the many windmills which dotted the hill. The mill supposedly emitted vast clouds of steam which left a layer of fog (brouillard) hanging over the vicinity, earning it its nickname. Albeit not terribly grand, the château was much larger than the most of the farmhouses found in the area and therefore the locals referred to it as “the castle,” a title that stuck.
Ducampjean hightailed it out of the area on the eve of the revolution, leaving the château, and the small workers’ quarters on the other side of the alley, to be occupied by various inhabitants during the 1800s, most notably poet Gérard Nerval and artists like Steinlen, Renoir and Modigliani. It also inspired the 1932 novel “Le Château des Brouillards” by Roland Dorgelès. Who knows how many stories its walls actually tell?
While this building isn’t technically called a “castle”… it’s the most “castle looking” of the list. Formerly known as the hôtel de l’Escalopier, this neo-gothic mansion can be admired at the end of impasse Marie-Blanche which is the extension of rue Constance (off of rue Lepic just above Le Café des Deux Moulins).
It’s exact origins are still not fully known, however, the current house was probably part of a home built in 1835 for the count Marie-Joseph-Charles de l’Escalopier. A historian and passionate collector, he had a library added to the building the 5,000 books he’d amassed as well as a small medieval silversmith museum. The current incarnation of the building is a result of modifications done in 1892-1900 for antique-dealer Ernest Eymonaud. It’s been a national classified monument since 1995 and is a true hidden gem of Montmartre, the perfect surprise for a romantic stroll in the area.
Hotel de l’Hermitage
On the high end of rue Lamarck at #24 is the lovely Hotel de l’Hermitage. Built in 1885 and in Second Empire style, this 12-room mansion was commissioned by a banker, the count Chambon de Brailles, for his “lady of heart.” Okay ladies, we need to find ourselves generous bankers.
It’s only passed down through five different families and has been in the hands of the current owners, the Canipel family, for over 40 years. You can see some interesting features from the outside, but a real treat would be to stay here, as it’s been carefully converted into a hotel. Its six bedrooms are each decorated in period furniture and family heirlooms. It has elegant common spaces and a verdant terrace facing a quiet, interior courtyard. More information on the hotel and its reasonable rates here.
Châteaux d’Eau de Montmartre
Alright, these aren’t really “castles,” but the French use the word château to describe other things, like water towers. Montmartre actually has two. The most visible and famous one is at 14 Rue du Mont Cenis, and is of a similar style to Sacre Coeur. It’s linked to the nearby reservoir which takes up the block just to the west of the Basilica.
A stone’s throw away, at the opposite end of rue Norvins, is its older cousin. It was constructed in 1835 to satisfy the needs of the growing town of Montmartre, after the closure of the area’s religious buildings during the revolution. The pretty neo-renaissance structure is more of a fountain nowadays than a water tower. In 1927 its functions were taken over by the newly built Mont Cenis tower. Today it’s the headquarters of the Commanderie du Clos-Montmartre, the confrérie that manages the Montmartre vineyard and organizes its lively annual harvest party every second weekend in October.
Château des Lys
Another 18th-century château, this one has a bit of a different destiny than the aforementioned ones. I’ve always been curious about the mysterious castle-like building at the edge of Montmartre on the corner of rue du Mont Cenis and rue Marcadet, and low and behold it is indeed a building of intrigue.
A classified national monument, today it’s one of the city’s top libertine clubs. Note: I haven’t attended one of their swingers’ evenings to conduct any first-hand research, and am not necessarily suggesting you go inside (you can admire it from exterior), however, apparently every night there’s a dinner buffet, a DJ heating up the dancefloor… but that’s not the only hot spot of the place. If you’ve found a match for some “exchanging,” there are discreet rooms/areas to go off to with your conquest of the night. Oh la la! The naughty history of Montmartre lives on!
Bonus! Château Rouge
I couldn’t resist including Château Rouge. This grungy neighborhood might seem the furthest from regal, however, the area used to be home to the “Red Castle,” pictured in the above engraving. The large property and park once sat on the northeast side of Montmartre between rue des Poissonniers, rue Christiani, rue de Clignancourt and rue Labat. While its origins remain somewhat of a mystery, due to its neoclassical style it’s assumed the castle was built between 1775 and 1795, though it’s frequently wrongly attributed as the home of Henri IV’s mistress Gabrielle d’Estrées, who lived almost two centuries earlier.
In 1814, it was the headquarters of Joseph Bonaparte,Napoléon’s older brother, who was then the Lieutenant General of the Empire in charge of defending Paris during the Battle of Paris. From 1844 the the grounds began to be sold off to make room for the expanding city and in 1847, the château was converted into a dancehall called the Bal du Château-Rouge. This closed down in 1882 and the building was eventually demolished in 1889. All that remains today is the namesake of the square, also featured on the métro station and colorful and exotic street market on nearby rue Dejean.
If you’d like to turn the château hopping into a stroll, you can use this handy Google Map I’ve created.