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Janis and I had the pleasure of spending a week in Paris in 2011 to mark our thirtieth anniversary and we loved it. One of the truly fabulous cities in the world. I’ve written about a number of our experiences there but never got around to writing about Notre Dame. We visited that grand piece of history on our fourth day.
Construction on the cathedral started in 1160 and was completed one hundred years later. Although many of its religious icons were destroyed by the anti-clerical French Revolution, the interest sparked by Hugo’s great novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, led to a major restoration project in 1844. It has undergone various renovations ever since and was undergoing one when it caught fire on April 15th, 2019.
The front facade shows its two bell towers, perhaps its most iconic feature which featured significantly in Victor Hugo’s novel. But before ascending the towers, we took a look inside with its vaulted ceilings and magnificent stained glass windows. Regrettably, I had a piece of crap camera back in the day which doesn’t really do it justice.
The stained glass features were made possible through the use of flying buttresses. These graceful arches on the outside of the building support the outward pressure of the walls, permitting the walls to be thinner and higher because of the reduction in mass.
But the pièce de resistance for us was the bell towers. There was a bit of a line-up as they can only be accessed by a long narrow staircase. But it was worth the wait. Only one tower, the South one, was open to the public at the time. A narrow walkway surrounds the tower.
The towers are sixty-nine meters high (226 feet) and were the tallest structures in Paris until the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The view is panoramic. The photo below shows the Pantheon to the South.
One of the interesting features of Notre Dame are its gargoyles, chimeras and Strixes. Gargoyles are the many rain spouts sticking out from the walls at intervals. Chimeras are statues of mythical creatures with the body of a lion and the head of a goat. And Strixes are flesh-eating creatures resembling an owl or bat.
We entered the bell tower and checked out the massive bells. The largest bell, known as the bourdon, survived the French Revolution intact. Many of the other bells were melted down by the revolutionaries. All the bells have names.
Looking up towards the skylight at the top, you can see that much of the superstructure is made of wood. Wooden construction makes it vulnerable to fire like the one that destroyed the Eastern part of the cathedral.
After visiting the bells we took a stroll around the outer walkway which gives you some excellent vantage pints for seeing the rest of the cathedral. The picture below is a composite of two mismatched photos which I fixed up a bit with Photoshop, but the bottom left and upper right were created by autofill and are a bit distorted. But it captures mot of the back end of the church which was destroyed in the fire.
Below is a view of some of the flying buttresses as seen from the tower.
Walking around the parapet we enjoyed spectacular views of the entire city. We also could see the North Bell Tower. Each tower also has a small turret off to the side and is covered by a skylight.
The plaza below the front facade of the church is a popular spot for Parisians to have lunch or just sit and enjoy the sunshine. The photo below shows a riverboat going by as well as many visitors to the plaza.
We leave our tour with a view of the spire or flèche which collapsed in the fire. After the picture you’ll find a link to an additional photo gallery.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Notre Dame and are much saddened by the fire that destroyed so much of it. It was an important piece of history and a fabulous work of art. We are grateful that we had an opportunity to visit it eight years ago. Below is a link to a photo gallery.