Rue des Martyrs. Photo: Norio Nakayama/ WikiCommons

What’s the story behind this street, the path taken by a beheaded saint?

Running from Pigalle’s Église Notre-Dame-de-Lorette up to the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, the rue des Martyrs is rumoured to have taken its name from the martyrdom of Saint-Denis, the first bishop of Paris, who (and this is all according to legend) was beheaded by the Romans.

As the legend goes, Denis picked up his severed head and walked the length of this street with it under his arm – and indeed further, all the way up to where the basilica in his name was later founded, which is quite a few kilometres…

These days the street, still one of the busiest in Paris for shopping and café life, is a magnet for food lovers, drawn up here to the old-fashioned charm and human scale of the mom-and-pop vendors and authentic food outlets.

The street has somehow always managed to maintain the mussed-up colour of its bars and cabarets. “I can never be sad on the rue des Martyrs,” says Elaine Sciolino, as she celebrates the neighbourhood’s rich history and vibrant lives in her book The Only Street in Paris, which is entirely dedicated to the rue and its 200 or so small businesses.

Sciolino explains that while many cities suffer from the ‘sameness’ effect of globalisation, the rue des Martyrs maintains its distinct allure.

Read other installments in our “Read the Signs” series:
Read the Signs: Rue Marie-Stuart in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue Crémieux in Paris
Read the Signs: Place de l’Europe- Simone Veil in Paris

Read the Signs: Boulevard Haussmann in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue du Chat qui Pêche in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue des Mauvais Garçons in Paris
Read the Signs: Avenue de Champagne
Read the Signs: Rue du Temple in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue Guy-Môquet in Paris
Read the Signs: Rue des Francs-Bourgeois in Paris
Read the Signs: Boulevard Diderot in Paris

From France Today magazine


  1. Hah, I just realized that Saint Denis was perhaps the proto-flaneur! And, cradling his head in his arms, considerably more devoted than today’s version (some of whom are probably imaginingg they are today’s hipster-flaneurs on their Lime scooters).