Paris Top 10 : Notre-Dame (part 1)

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The heart of the country, both geographically and spiritually, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Our Lady) stands majestic on the Ile de la Cité. After Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone in 1163, an army of craftsmen toiled for 170 years to realize Bishop Maurice de Sully’s magnificent design. Almost destroyed during the Revolution, the Gothic masterpiece was restored in 1841–64 by architect Viollet-le-Duc. Some 130 m (430 ft) in length with a high-vaulted nave and double side aisles, it also contains France’s largest organ.

  • 6 Parvis Notre-Dame-Place Jean-Paul II, 75004

  • 01 53 10 07 00 (towers)

  • 01 42 34 56 10 (cathedral)

  • Open: cathedral 8am–6:45pm daily (to 7:15pm Sat–Sun); towers Apr–Sep: 10am–6:30pm daily (to 11pm Sat–Sun Jun–Aug); Oct–Mar: 10am–5:30pm daily

  • Adm: €7.50, (€4.80 18–25s, under-18s free, free 1st Sun of month)

Cathedral Guide

Enter through the West Front. The stairs to the towers are outside to your left. Ahead, the central nave soars to a height of 35 m (115 ft), while 37 side chapels line the walls. These contain the “May” paintings by Charles le Brun, donated by the goldsmiths’ guild each May in the 17th–18th centuries. The fine transept across the nave is the best place to admire the three rose windows. Remnants of the 14th-century stone screen can be seen on the north and south bays of the chancel. Nicolas Coustou’s Pietà stands behind the high altar, flanked by statues of Louis XIII by Coustou and Louis XIV by Antoine Coysevox.

Notre-Dame seen from the River Seine

There are cafés opposite the Square Jean XXIII.

Free organ recitals on Sunday afternoons.

Top 10 Features
  1. West Front

    The glorious entrance to the cathedral is through three elaborately carved portals. Biblical scenes, painted in the Middle Ages, represent the life of the Virgin, the Last Judgment and the Life of St Anne. Above is the Gallery of Kings of Judaea and Israel.

  2. Portal of the Virgin

    The splendid stone tympanum was carved in the 13th century and shows the Virgin Mary’s death and glorious coronation in heaven. However, the Virgin and Child carving seen between the doors is a modern work of art.

  3. Flying Buttresses

    The striking buttresses supporting the cathedral’s east façade are by Jean Ravy and have a span of 15 m (50 ft). The best view is from Square Jean XXIII.

  4. The Towers

    The twin towers are 69 m (226 ft) high: visitors can climb the 387 steps of the north tower for splendid vistas over Paris. The south tower houses the Emmanuel Bell, weighing 13 tonnes.

  5. Galerie des Chimères

    Lurking between the towers are the famous gargoyles (chimères), placed here by Viollet-le-Duc to ward off evil.

  6. The Spire

    The 90-m (295-ft) spire was added by Viollet-le-Duc. Next to the Apostles statues on the roof is one of the architect, admiring his work.

  7. Rose Windows

    Three great rose windows adorn the north, south and west façades, but only the north window retains its 13th-century stained glass, depicting the Virgin surrounded by figures from the Old Testament. The south window shows Christ encircled by the Apostles.

  8. Statue of the Virgin and Child

    Also known as Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris), this beautiful 14th-century statue was brought to the cathedral from the chapel of St Aignan. It stands against the southeast pillar of the transept, at the entrance to the chancel.

  9. Choir Stalls

    More than half of the original stalls commissioned by Louis XIV survive. Among the beautifully carved work on the 78 stalls are scenes from the Life of the Virgin.

  10. Treasury

    Ancient manuscripts, reliquaries and religious garments are housed in the sacristy. The Crown of Thorns and a piece of the True Cross are on public view every Good Friday.

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