Notre Dame De Paris cover

Notre Dame De Paris


Notre Dame de Paris is one of the most iconic and best-known man made landmarks in the world. More than 13 million people visit this cathedral each year.

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Notre Dame De Paris

The Essence of Paris

There is no single reason why this building is so popular.

Notre Dame holds no world records and there are other buildings that surpass the cathedral in every single aspect but Notre Dame has some special charm, special fame, and special beauty.

This great French Gothic cathedral represents the essence of Paris, the most romantic and the most visited city.

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

Atoma / (CC BY-SA 2.5)


In popular literature the 1.2 km long Ile de la Cité is considered to be the cradle of Paris.

The true beginning of Paris may have started somewhere adjacent, but this island in Seine also had early inhabitants sometime around 50 BC.

Previous shrines - It is possible that an important Roman temple was built on the island on the site of Notre Dame.

The cathedral of Paris, Saint-Étienne, was founded on this site during the 4th century. It was rebuilt in the 6th century when an enormous 70 m long cathedral was built. This beautiful structure incorporated exquisite mosaics.


There are some doubts as to whether the old cathedral was THAT bad.

It seems that the assessment of its condition was represented as worse than it really was. But who can tell it now? One thing was clear though, Paris was growing very quickly and the previous cathedral was becoming too small.

In 1160 the newly appointed Bishop of Paris Maurice de Sully ordered the demolition of the old cathedral to clear a space for a new, better one.

Back in those times Paris consisted mainly of smaller wooden buildings. Such houses also covered Ile de la Cité and several were demolished to make way for a new road to supply the construction materials.

Construction of the church was started in 1163 with a ceremony that was attended by Pope Alexander III.

Rose Window

Rose Window

Notre Dame Cathedral, Rose Window From The Inside

Ashley Buttle / (CC BY 2.0)

Construction (cont.)

Early Gothic

The construction of Notre Dame spanned centuries causing changes to the design style as time went on. With many different experts involved throughout the years not only did architecture evolve but technological advances also spurred change.

The construction of the new cathedral began in the Early Gothic style. This style was on trend with cathedrals constructed in Saint-Denis, Noyon and Laon, with the one in Sens nearing its completion.

The High Altar was consecrated in 1182 making services possible in the new church.

After the death of Maurice de Sully in 1196, the new bishop, Odon de Sully (not closely related to Maurice) continued the work, which remained in progress after his death in 1208.

The Western Portal

The Western Portal

Doors With Decorative Hinges In The Western Portal

Chris Waits

(CC BY 2.0)

Construction (cont.)

High Gothic and Rayonnant Gothic

During the first half of the 13th century the cathedral was constructed in High Gothic style and is considered to be one of the highest achievements in this style.

Rayonnant style, structurally the "lightest" version of Gothic style, dominated in the middle of the 13th century when Jean de Chelles, and later, Pierre de Montreuil led the works. This style is represented in several transepts and portals of the cathedral and also in the gorgeous rose windows.

The first northern tower of the cathedral was completed in 1240 at which time it was decided the towers of the cathedral would not have spires.

Construction (cont.)

Refined Finishing

The construction of the cathedral lasted for some two centuries until the late 14th century. During the last century of construction, the exquisite structure was adorned with numerous sculptures some of which being the best found in medieval Europe.

Each sculpture was modeled individually and most of them had some structural importance such as holding one or another element of the cathedral. Not less impressive were the windows with stained glass and countless other features.

In medieval times the church was brightly painted. The color has since worn off.

Flying Buttresses

Flying Buttresses

Flying Buttresses At The Apse

Vincent Chevalier

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Construction (cont.)

Flying buttresses: the fight with structural damage

The lightness of the Rayonnant Gothic style architecture had its price. The light walls had heaved up slanting them outwards and creating cracks.

Arched exterior supports, or flying buttresses, were a new invention created to prevent the new cathedral from collapse. Notre Dame was one of the first structures to use this unusual feature of Gothic architecture. Jean Ravy built them in 1318 - 1344.

As the construction proceeded, builders started to enjoy these external supports. Flying buttresses became thinner and longer and finally did not hold anything. Their transformation had made them more suitable to be used as rain gutters directing water away from the main building.

Construction (cont.)

History after the construction

Wolves of Paris

The winter of 1450 was especially harsh and predators did not have any other prey but humans. A pack of wolves entered through the walls of Paris and killed 40 people, mainly women and children. The city was in a panic, rumors spread, the leader of the pack was nicknamed Courtaud (Bobtail).

Parisians managed to lure the pack onto the isolated Ile de La Cité where the wolves were stoned and speared in front of Notre Dame.

Before the Reconstruction

Before the Reconstruction

Notre Dame De Paris Around 1840, Before The Reconstruction /

Vincent Chevalier

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Damages and Alterations

Throughout the history of France the rich symbols and artworks of the cathedral would at times provoke protests and riots.

In 1548 the Huguenots intentionally damaged the statues as they considered them idolatrous.

Modifications were made during the reign of Louis XIV and Louis XV. Many beautiful stained glass windows were considered too dark by the priests and were replaced with clear glass in 1786. Happily the rose windows were left intact. Many tombs and statues were removed from the cathedral.

Damages and Alterations (cont.)

The French Revolution was one of the worst periods in the history of the cathedral. Many unique works of art were destroyed and plundered in 1793, with most of the large sculptures being damaged.

The sculptures depicting Judean kings in the south facade lost their heads leading to the belief that they were actually French kings. The heads were later found in 1977 and are now housed in the National museum of Middle Ages.

The cathedral became a home to the invented cults of revolutionaries and finally was used as a warehouse for the food.


The situation normalized in 1801 when worship in the cathedral was renewed.

Napoleon and his wife Joséphine were crowned in the cathedral in 1804. The building was in a dire state. For the event it was whitewashed and the fractures and damages were hidden with draperies and decorations.



Notre Dame, Choir /

Chris Willis /

(CC BY 2.0)

Dire state and Victor Hugo

By the 1820s - 1830s the beautiful cathedral was close to collapse and city officials considered removing it.

The successful novelist Victor Hugo wrote the novel "Notre-Dame de Paris" which was specially dedicated to this building.

The book starts off with a hundred-page description detailing every feature of the cathedral. Although it may be a boring read this did wonders for public relations and helped spur the movement for restoration.

This popular novel was one of the factors that made the public aware of the historical value of the cathedral. Urged on by popular opinion the authorities decided to save this beautiful building.

The Big Restoration

The ambitious restoration of Notre Dame started in 1845 and lasted until 1864. Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus, and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc oversaw the project. The restoration was expensive and extremely complicated.

To this day some regard the work done by Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc as controversial. Many art historians find it necessary to express regrets about the alterations to the original design done during this restoration.

We should bear in mind though that the cathedral was crumbling, many sculptures were lost or destroyed beyond recognition. Restorers did not have exact drawings of many features of the original church. Many alterations to the original structure were needed in order to reinforce the old building and to prevent its further disintegration.

The Flèche, a smaller tower that had been removed in 1786, was rebuilt during the restoration. At 96 m tall, this is the tallest detail of the cathedral.

The Big Restoration (cont.)

The most famous and most daring alteration was the adding of chimeras, but few consider this to be a failure.

Viollet-le-Duc was also asked to add spires to the towers, a detail which was never planned for the cathedral. The architect did not like this idea so he drew the plans of the proposed spires in the most unappealing manner. Thus the idea was refused.

It is easy to criticize after the work is done, but without the restoration of 1845 - 1864 this wonder of medieval architecture would be lost.



Gargoyle of Notre Dame Cathedral In Action/


(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Latest History

In 1871 the church was once again in danger when rioters set fire to the benches in the church. Happily the flames were extinguished.

Some damage was done during the Second World War. Some of the stained glass windows were smashed with stray bullets and are now replaced with modern designs.

Important maintenance work was done after 1991. The façade and sculptures were cleaned with the centuries old layer of dust being removed from the stones with high-tech equipment.

The North Tower will be receiving new bells, which are being produced and will be put up in 2013.

Notre Dame de Paris gets some 30 000 visitors per day. This beautiful structure has served as a major tourist attraction for at least five centuries. The towers of the cathedral can be ascended and visitors can stand next to chimeras that thoughtfully look down on the city.

Technical Details

Notre Dame In Figures

The cathedral is 127 m long and 48 m wide.

Main towers are 69 m high, but the smaller tower - 96 m tall.

The height of the vault of nave is 33 m.

Nave of the cathedral has 10 bays, choir - 5.

The cathedral has 113 windows and 75 pillars and columns.

Cathedral has 29 chapels, in total here are 37 quadrangular bays.

Indoor area is 4,800 m² large.

9,000 people can fit into the cathedral.

The diameter of both largest rose windows is 13.1 m. These are some of the largest rose windows - but not the largest ones.

Western Facade

Western Facade

Notre Dame, Western Façade /

Javi / (CC BY-SA 2.0)


The whole exterior of the cathedral is rich with architectural forms and sculptures.

The portals on the west, south and north facades are especially ornate. All sculptures were brightly painted in medieval times.

The Western facade includes both towers and opens towards the plaza. It was constructed in 1200 - 1250. The facade has three portals: the portal of the Last Judgment in the centre and portals of the Virgin and St. Anne on the sides. All are covered with huge number of high quality sculptures.

Exterior (cont.)

The central portal shows the dead awakened by angels and judged by Christ. Everything is represented: angels, demons, Jesus, pope, warriors, even black African.

The beautiful south facade was started in 1257. The main element of this facade is the giant rose window with a smaller rose window above it. Sculptures show scenes from the life of St. Stephen and local saints. This part of Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the highest achievements in Gothic architecture.

Southern Facade

Southern Facade

Notre Dame, Southern Facade /

Skouame /

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Northern Facade

The Northern facade is directed towards a narrow, shady street and is much less noticeable.

Nevertheless the richness and quality of the decoration is similar to the one of other facades. Sculptures show the scenes of the infancy of Christ and the story of Theophilus.

The semicircular apse is an architectural value on its own. It is accented with fourteen flying buttresses which do not hold the structure, they just divert the rainwater. On the ends of flying buttresses are gargoyles, grotesque medieval sculptures. Water flows through the "throats” of these stone creatures.

Gorgeous and sophisticated are the doors with wrought iron hinges. These hinges are extremely ornate and in some cases cover almost the whole door with arabesques.



Chimera Of Notre Dame Cathedral

Brian Jeffery Beggerly

(CC BY 2.0)

Chimeras (cont.)

The cathedral is adorned with chimeras, grotesque statues serving just for decorative purposes.

These sculptures were made in the 19th century as a romantic allusion of the dark Middle Ages and are designed after the fantastic drawings of Honore Daumier. The Chimeras sit comfortably in different locations and are contemplating the life in Paris.

This element was introduced by Viollet-le-Duc and was a courageous addition. It has been a huge success. These sculptures are now a part of the identity of Paris.

Stained Glass

Stained Glass

Notre Dame Cathedral, Stained Glass / Nitin Pai


(CC BY 2.0)


The rich and diverse interior of the cathedral manifests the various styles of Gothic architecture.

The stained glass in the windows is of very special value. It has been created in different time periods but part has been preserved from the medieval times.

The top floor of the cathedral is an interesting feature. It is built from oak wood, which has served well since 1220. It is estimated that 1,300 oak trees have been used in the construction of the cathedral. These trees would form 21 ha large forest.

The organ of the cathedral has 7,800 pipes. Being the organist in Notre Dame is a highly prestigious position for a musician. There are four organists currently appointed and each one plays for three months of the year.

Interior (cont.)

The cathedral has five bells. The great bourdon bell Emmanuel is located in the south tower, happily it was saved from the destruction during the French Revolution.

It weighs over 13 tons and has beautiful tone. In the north tower are four other bells and new bells will be added in 2013.

The cathedral contains a rich collection of exquisite art, including the beautiful Gothic and Renaissance paintings granted to the cathedral by goldsmiths every May 1st. An especially valuable relic is the purported Crown of Thorns, a legendary cultural property that really might have come from Judea.

Main Characteristics

Coordinates: 48.8532 N 2.3494 E

No: 310 (list of all attractions)

Category: Churches

Values: Architecture, Visual

Rank: 1

Address: Europe, France, Île-de-France, Paris, Île de la Cité

Name in French: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Alternate names: Notre Dame

UNESCO World Heritage status: part of "Paris, Banks of the Seine", 1991, No.600

Architectural style: Gothic

Year of construction: 1163 - the late 14th century

Branch of Christianity: Roman Catholic