Built atop the Île de la Cité, one of the last two remaining natural islands in the Seine River, the Notre Dame Cathedral has become one of the most iconic monuments in the world. It is not just a place of worship, as evidenced by the droves of tourists from around the world who flock to marvel at the monument centuries after it was constructed. The cathedral is the epitome of French Gothic Architecture, and has remained a glowing testament to the skill of medieval European artists and architects. From the exquisite Rose Windows to the Great Organ, the Notre Dame Cathedral is unparalleled in its architectural elegance and artistic beauty.
In 1160, when Bishop Maurice de Sully declared that the St. Stephen’s Cathedral would be torn down and replaced by the Notre Dame de Paris, few expected the new building to rank amongst the world’s greatest cathedrals. Three years after the demolition of the old Cathedral, construction of the Notre Dame (Our Lady of Paris) began in earnest. Although Bishop Maurice died in 1196, the construction of the cathedral continued for another 150 years. It took four different chief architects over the course of nearly two centuries to complete the monument. The cathedral was restored after it was partially ruined by revolutionaries in the last decade of the 18th century.
The cathedral dared to incorporate relatively unexplored engineering concepts and combined it with breathtakingly ornate Gothic artistry. Regardless of whether you simply choose to admire the exteriors of this magnificent monument or explore its interiors, the Notre Dame is a must-see if you are visiting Paris.
The architects of the Notre Dame de Paris ventured into unexplored aspects of design in the medieval era. It was one of the first Gothic monuments to use the ingenious ‘flying buttress’ to support the exterior walls. There are numerous individually carved statues that surround the cathedral. Each of these statues serves a specific purpose, like supporting the columns or acting as a water spout.
Regarded as “a pure creation of the spirit” by Le Corbusier, the West Facade of the Notre Dame is amongst the greatest architectural masterpieces in Europe. Each of the three portals (Portal of the Last Judgement, Portal of the Virgin, and Portal of St. Anne) are intricately decorated and serve as symbolic depictions of important ideas in Christianity.
If you love sweeping views of city skylines, the towers of Notre Dame will not disappoint you. Climbing the spiral staircase that consists of 387 steps will bring you to the top of the tower. From here, you can see many of Paris’ famous monuments like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Pantheon. The Gargoyles and chimera statues, which are said to protect the cathedral from evil spirits, are a hauntingly beautiful sight at the top of the tower. You can also stop by the belfry that houses Emmanuel, the largest of the cathedral’s ten bells.
Your eyes will be glued to the enormous vaulted ceiling and the stained glass rose windows as you enter the Notre Dame. To say that the interiors of the cathedral are stunning would be an understatement. The sculptures and artwork are clearly inspired by naturalism, and the ribbed vault and flying buttress speak volumes of the skill and engineering prowess of the architects and builders. The three rose windows on the north, south, and west sides of the Notre Dame have survived for over 7 centuries, and still remain one of the most fascinating aspects of the interiors of the cathedral. The treasury of Notre Dame holds invaluable manuscripts, chalices, and even the coronation robe of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Situated directly under the square before Notre Dame, the crypt is a mysterious chamber below the monument. It houses historical remains that archaeologists consider crucial to the comprehensive understanding of the history of the monument and Paris in general. It is maintained by the Musée Carnavalet and features many intricate architectural models representing the evolution of architecture over the centuries. The underfloor heating that was installed during the era of Roman occupation is still noticeable to this day.
The organ of the Notre Dame, which was first built by Friedrich Schambantz in 1403, evolved with the cathedral itself. It was replaced or remodelled several times by the likes of Francois Thierry, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, and Charles Mutin in different eras of French history. The stop knobs, pedals, and manual keyboards were upgraded quite recently in 1992. The organ that can be seen in the cathedral today has a staggering 8000 pipes and 115 stops!
The Notre Dame trumps the Eiffel Tower in the number of visitors it receives each year. The number hovers around a whopping 13 million.
During the French Revolution, many of the Notre Dame’s structures were demolished. The great bell Emmanuel, however, was considered far too precious and magnificent to melt down.
The Great Organ in the cathedral has five keyboards and 8000 pipes, making it the largest organ in France!
The Crown of Thorns, widely considered to be one of the most important Christian artifacts, is kept in the Notre Dame.