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In the 18th century, students recited poems at the foot of an artificial hillock of rock rubble from the catacombs, a near-by network of underground galleries. Ironically, they decided to baptize this mound "Mount Parnassus", named after the one celebrated by Greek poets. In early 20th century, many Bretons driven out of their region by poverty arrived by train at Montparnasse station, the heart of the district, and settled near-by. Montparnasse became famous in the 1920s, referred to as les Années Folles (the Crazy Years), and the 1930s as the heart of intellectual and artistic life in Paris. From 1910 to the start of World War II, Paris' artistic circles migrated to Montparnasse as alternative to the Montmartre district which had been the intellectual breeding ground for the previous generation of artists. The Paris of Zola, Manet, France, Degas, Fauré, a group that had assembled more on the basis of status affinity than actual artistic tastes, indulging in the refinements of Dandyism, was at the opposite end of the economic, social, and political spectrum from the gritty, tough-talking, die-hard, emigrant artists that peopled Montparnasse.

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