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Notre Dame de Paris, Paris
Notre Dame de Paris history
The history of the amazing Notre Dame de Paris began almost 1000 years ago. The planning of a new, grand cathedral in Paris began in 1160. It was the newly appointed bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, who had ordered the construction of a new cathedral. In order to make place for it, the bishop had the old church demolished together with several surrounding houses.
A new road was also constructed in order to bring material to the construction site. Construction of the cathedral itself began in 1163, when either de Sully or Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone.
Who actually laid the first piece of Notre Dame de Paris is still under debate, but it is documented that both the bishop and the pope was attending the ceremony in question.
Notre Dame de Paris consists of two parts; the western side is the main entrance with the two bell towers while the eastern side is the main hall and choir. During the construction, focus was on building the eastern part first. That way the cathedral could still be utilized by putting up a temporary western wall while the rest of the western parts were being built. Construction of the choir took place between 1163 and 1177and the new high altar was finished 1182.
Maurice de Sully never got to see Notre Dame de Paris completed, as he died in 1196. His successor, Eudes de Sully, continued the work and began construction of the western entrance before is own death in 1208.
The western entrance stood complete in when the South tower was finished in 1250, but the building itself was not entirely completed until 1345 as details were added and changed the last 100 years. Thus, in total this masterpiece took almost 180 years to complete.
Revolution and Restoration
In 1793, Notre Dame de Paris was damaged during the French Revolution. Many sculptures and treasures were plundered or destroyed. One example of this is The Gallery of Kings. This is a row of twenty-eight statues representing twenty-eight generations of kings of Judah, which can be seen just above the main gates.
However, after the kings’ installation in the 13th century, they quickly became familiar representations of the kings of Franceand from 1284 onwards, they were presented in this way.
During the troubled time of the Revolution, these statues were attacked and behead as they were seen as symbols of the royal tyranny. These were later restored when the church underwent restoration work during the 19th century. The restorations lasted 23 years, and it was during this period that the spire which you can see today was erected.
Why visit Notre Dame de Paris ?
Notre Dame de Paris is without a doubt the most famous French cathedral and one of most famous in the whole world. Notre Dame de Paris is widely considered one of the very finest examples in world of French Gothic architecture. Once you get a glimpse of it, it easy to understand why. One thing many people don’t know is that the name Notre Dame is not something specific to this grand cathedral.
The phrase means “our lady” with a direct reference to the Virgin Mary and is widely used all over France as a name for churches and cathedrals. Even though the full name of these masterpieces is Notre Dame de Paris, many people just refer to it as the Notre Dame.
Today, Notre Dame de Paris houses a total of five bells in its bell towers; one grand bell and five smaller. Smaller in this case means they weigh between two and three tons, so they are only small when compared to the big bell. The big bell is known as “Emmanuel” and weighs 13 ton.
It is located in the south tower and it is rung for major holidays such as Christmas, Eastern, all Saints’ days and other important events. The smaller bells ring every hour to indicate the time.
It is possible to go up in the towers, which is highly recommended as the view is great. There you can get a closer look at the one of the bells and also see the famous gargoyles and chimeras. While the statues have a decorative purpose, they also have a practical purpose as some of them were used as drainpipes.
Many of the grotesque figures have a passageway inside that carries rainwater from the roof and out through the gargoyle's mouth. The gargoyles were also believed to protect the cathedral against evil spirits. The classical chimeras surrounding the two towers were not however in the original cathedral, but they were added later during the 19th century restoration.
Notre Dame de Paris truly has an amazing outside, decorated with hundreds of gargoyles and statues, each telling their own story. Especially interesting to many is the gates.
The Portal of the Last Judgement
The main gate portrays the meeting with the Lord and the last judgment. Visitors will also see an angel and a devil with a scale in between. This symbolizes all the good deeds and the bad deeds people have done through their lives and the tilt of the scale decides where the people end up; in either heaven or hell.
By looking closely, one will see how the people on the left side of the scale happily looks up towards the sky, where as the right ones are sad looking as they have to follow the devil.
The Portal of St. Anne
The right gate, known as The Portal of St. Anne, displays the story of the marriage of Joachim and Anne and the marriage of Mary and Joseph as well as scenes from Christ’s arrival on earth.
The Portal of the Virgin
The left gate is known as The Portal of the Virgin. Above the door, visitors can see the three prophets on the left and three Old Testament kings on the right, holding phylacteries showing that God’s promise has been fulfilled; Jesus has come to save humanity.
Above that lies Mary on her death bed, surrounded by Jesus and the twelve Apostles. There is also two angels, lifting up her shroud and taking her to Heaven. The top depicts Mary in Heaven, crowned the Queen of Heaven by an angel while being blessed by Jesus.
While the outside of the Notre Dame de Paris is amazing, the inside is just as beautiful. The inside holds spiritual statues, magnificent paintings and breathtaking stained glass windows. Many of the old church windows also tell a story, with each part of the window telling a part of the story - almost like a modern cartoon.
Most spectacular are the three rose windows, which all dates back to 13th century. Although they have received some restoration work during the years, the windows of today is very much true to what the windows looked like in the 13th century. They are without a doubt some of the best rose windows in the world.
Even though the cathedral is the obvious point of focus, there are some surrounding places and monuments which are worth noting. Just in front of the cathedral, to the right, stands a large statue. The inscription reads "Charlemagne et ses levdes", meaning “Charlemagne and his noble servants”.
Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, was the great Frankish king during the 8th century who helped define the Western Europe we know today through his conquering. The statue is not as old as the Notre Dame itself, as the statue was created in 1886 by Louis and Charles Rochet.
Did you know..?
Another interesting little detail can be found in the pavement, in front of the cathedral. Hidden in the pavement lies a circular marking, saying “Point Zéro - des routes des France” meaning “Point Zero – the roads of France”.
This is the location which all distances are traditionally measured. Many countries have there so called “Kilometer Zero”-points, and France’s point happens to be right here. The marking is also considered to be the official centre of the city of Paris.
Notre Dame de Paris location
For the exact location of the Notre Dame de Paris, check out the location map to the right.
Notre Dame de Paris resources
The highly decorative main spire. © WSG.
One of the side chapels of Notre Dame. © WSG.
Gargoyle overlooking the city. © Marine Gertsch.
Notre Dame gargoyle. (GFDL) Harmonia Amanda.
The Portal of St. Anne. © Mark Garland.
One of the stunning rose windows. © Marine Gertsch.
Interactive location map. For a larger and more detailed map, check out our France map.
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