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Notre Dame

History of Notre Dame

Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite
An unusual view of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is located on a small island in the middle of the RIVER SEINE which flows through Paris. Two thousand years ago, during Roman times, all of Paris was on this little island! Today, the cathedral is surrounded by appartments and official buildings.

The cathedral of NOTRE DAME is over eight hundred years old. Construction began in 1163 and the Cathedral took nearly two hundred years to build.

The beautiful front facade of the cathedral

Notre Dame - door

This is the central front or main door for the cathedral. Like the other doors, it is decorated with statues of the saints and characters from the bible.

The doors are very large and opened for Mass on Sundays. Generally visitors enter by one of the side doors.

Up to the 1800s, the Cathedral was surrounded by slums. The bridge linking the Ile de la Cité to the Latin Quarter had houses built on it. The whole area was unpleasant, unhealthy and unsafe .See the picture below.

bridge by Notre Dame

When Baron Haussmann rebuilt the city, he ensured that this area was beautified with graceful apartments. He also organised a new bridge which was designed without houses.

Bridge for Notre Dame

Today the replacement bridge is now traffic free. The "musiciens ambulants" or buskers come here to play; skateboarders love to show off their jumping skills.

Another way to reach Notre Dame is to cross the River Seine on a little stone bridge called the PONT NEUF. This means new bridge. This is a funny name because the bridge is five hundred years old and the oldest one in Paris.

Pont Neuf

Here is Le Pont Neuf; it was the first stone bridge to be built across the river and it has kept its name for 500 years!


The Gargoyles of Notre Dame

Notre Dame de Paris was made very famous by the nineteenth century French writer, Victor Hugo, who wrote a book called "Notre Dame de Paris". In English we know this book as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Quasimodo, the Hunchback, was the bell ringer who fell in love with the gipsy princess. The book has been made into many films, and a Walt Disney cartoon.

roof of Notre Dame with statues

Look for the statues on the roof of the cathedral

For a small fee, you can climb the narrow spiral stairs which lead up to the wooden belfry in the bell tower.(The bell tower is the one on the right hand side). You need to climb up about 250 stairs to reach the first level of the tower. From here, you can look down across the roof of the main part of the cathedral to see how it is constructed. You can see the flying buttresses and the statues - most of which is hidden from view on the ground.

On the roof you will see the famous bell and the gargoyles who guard the tower on the outside of the building. Gargoyles were often put on buildings as a means of scaring away evil spirits.

gargoyle eating cat

These gargoyles, tucked away at the top of Notre Dame look quite scary! They represent a variety of creatures from ancient myths. The one on the left is busy eating its morning snack (of a cat!).

gargoyle looking down

The gargoyles watch over the city. The one on the left overlooks the Quartier Latin and the River Seine. Click on this link for more gargoyles and a slide show on Notre Dame.

According to Hugo's story, Quasimodo, the Hunchback lived in the bell tower and rang the bell. In fact, the bell weighs 13 tonnes and twenty five people used to be needed to pull the rope to make it ring!

Today, the bell is rung electronically. Its tone is said to be so pure because of the gold and silver jewellery which was thrown by Parisian women into the molten bronze when it was recast during the seventeenth century. The bell is only rung for special occasions such as Sunday Mass or other important celebrations.

top of Notre Dame

There is also a higher part of the tower open, which can be reached by climbing another 141 steps.

The upper roof

From here, the view across Paris is magnificent especially at night when the city is lit up. Paris is a relatively flat city, and the centre has very little high rise.

Things to look for when you visit Notre Dame

km0 plaque

The Kilometre O plaque

In the square in front of Notre Dame is a plaque which is the point from which all distances in France are measured. It is called "Le kilomètre 0". This was put in place by André Michelin, the founder of the famous Michelin tyre business.

Look carefully at the walls in the square. You will find plaques commemorating the brave Resistance fighters during World War II. The one illustrated is in memory of those who died during the Liberation of Paris. (see the "did you know" section).

Resistance plaque
Memorial to resistance fighters from WWII

Inside the cathedral, there is a a very large and beautiful round stained glass window made in the thirteenth century, called the "rose" window, which can be seen in the illustrations. It was the biggest window in the world when it was built and it still contains its medieval glass. Its stained glass has pictures of scenes from bible stories.

rose window inside
The Rose window

 

The icon that was nearly demolished!
 

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History


Gargoyles and bell


Things to look for when you visit


Did you know?

 

 

 


 

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History


Gargoyles and bell


Things to look for when you visit


Did you know?

     
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