Why is one of the best-known artistic districts in Paris history named after a mountain in Greece? The Montparnasse area is indeed famous for being a major center of cultural life in the late 19th and early 20th century period, but its relation with Mount Parnassus in Greece is actually much older.
Mount Parnassus – Photo by wiki user Electron08
In fact, the relation with the Greek mountain goes all the way back to the 17th century. At that time, the Montparnasse area was partly rural and the city of Paris used it to get rid of rubbish and waste from stone quarries. In time, all this rubble formed a small hill, where students from the Latin Quarter would come to hang out, find inspiration and recite poetry.
In Ancient Greek mythology, the goddesses who inspire poetic and artistic creation are known as the Muses, and their home is Mount Parnassus. So, the 17th-century students in Paris playfully called their small hill Mont Parnasse, which is French for Mount Parnassus, by association.
The Mont Parnasse nickname stayed and the entire area was eventually named Montparnasse. About three hundred years later, in the 1910s and 20s, the Montparnasse area became home to some of the biggest names in modern art and literature, including Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani and Fitzgerald, among many others.
From left to right, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and André Salmon in Montparnasse, photographed by Jean Cocteau in 1916
By then the small hill had disappeared, but the 17th-century students had got it right. For a time, Montparnasse truly became the home of the Muses in Paris.