Downtown, also known by its French name, Centre-ville, is the business center of today's Montreal. While not as distinctive-looking as Old Montreal, it nevertheless contains a number of architecturally significant buildings, especially if you are into 20th century architecture.
The area, which used to be a suburb of Montreal proper (today's Old Montreal) was settled very gradually until the mid-19th century, when development accelerated and one major shift occurred: the city's elites pulled up stakes and moved from the cramped "old" city into a shiny "new" downtown. The richest among them, mostly of Scottish descent, built townhouses and mansions on the slopes of Mount Royal. The area they settled came to be called the "Golden Square Mile."
Around 1900, several family-owned "dry goods" stores followed its richest customers and inaugurated their new, large, elegant commercial buildings in the new city center, around the Rue St. Catherine, vastly expanding their inventory and thus morphing into what we consider "department stores" today.
The modern "business core" of the district consists of skyscrapers built from the early 1960s on, mainly along the Boulevard René-Lévesque. Among them, Place Ville-Marie (I.M. Pei and Henry N Cobb, 1962) is one of the most recognizable. After a long lull, skyscraper construction boom returned: as of 2016, the area near the Bell Center sports complex, having sat empty for several decades, is being transformed by a whole cluster of huge residential and office buildings.
The downtown portion of Rue St-Catherine is the main shopping artery of the city and is nearly always brimming with people.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal) is Montreal's best-known museum. Its principal building, which sits directly opposite the original 1912 pavilion, was built by perhaps Montreal's most famous modern architect, Moshe Safdie, in 1991.
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