Things to do in Paris – Visit Notre Dame Cathedral

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West Facade and Parvis Notre Dame Paris France

It’s one of the most visited monuments in Paris (over 30,000 visitors per day!), featured for centuries in books and movies, and known to many as the home of Quasimodo – the Hunchback of Notre Dame. This is one stop we highly recommend and it’s also worth a pass at night.

South Rose Window Exterior Notre Dame Paris France

La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, a ‘jewel of medieval architecture’, was built at the request of Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris. Utilizing stone, glass, and 1,300 oak trees (a virtual forest of about 51 acres), construction began in 1163 and lasted a couple of centuries.  In 2013 the Cathedral celebrated its 850th ‘birthday.

Situated on the Ile de la Cite in the River Seine, Notre Dame stands on the site of at least two previous places of worship; a pagan temple and a Christian basilica dedicated to Saint Stephen (aka Saint-Etienne). Remnants of these and other earlier structures can be seen in the Archaeological Crypt below the cathedral square.

Having suffered through periods of neglect as well as damage inflicted by revolutionaries, it’s said that the tale of the Hunchback written by Victor Hugo in 1831 helped to save the cathedral from destruction. Today, visitors to Paris are able to attend daily services, climb the bell towers, and visit the Treasury, or just stop by to look around.

The phenomenal architectural and artistic features you’ll see on the exterior of Notre Dame include:

Carved Masonry West Facade Notre Dame Paris France

The West Façade – the main entrance to the cathedral, constructed in the 13th century and partially restored in the 19th century, easily recognizable by its twin towers, rose window, and beautifully carved masonry.

Masonry above door

Dominating the lower third of the façade are three impressive arched portals with stone carvings and heavy wooden doors. At the center is The Portal of the Last Judgment, to the right is The Portal of Saint Anne, and to the left, The Portal of the Virgin.

St Denis Holding His Head Notre Dame Paris France

This last features carvings of various saints, including the patron saints of Paris: St. Genevieve, St. Stephen, and St. Denis (do you see him there, holding his head?).

Chimeras and Gargoyles North Bell Tower Notre Dame Paris France

Chimeras and Gargoyles – perhaps the most photographed architectural elements of the Cathedral, these grotesque, yet somewhat comical, stone creatures can be found on postcards and tourist trinkets throughout the city. While the gargoyles serve a functional purpose as drain spouts, they, along with the purely decorative chimeras, may also serve to ward off evil spirits. If you climb the bell towers, you’ll get a chance to see these little guys up close.

The Spire

The Spire – the second spire to grace the Cathedral’s rooftop, this one replaced the original 13th century bell tower spire in the 19th century. The rooster at the tip of the needle is said to hold sacred relics from Saints Denis and Genevieve, as well as part of the crown of thorns.

Central Nave Notre Dame Paris France

What you’ll see inside of Notre Dame includes:

North Rose Window and Transept Notre Dame Paris France

The Rosette Windows – three lace-like stained glass windows created in the 13th century.

South Rose Window Notre Dame Paris France

These are: the South Rose Window, a gift to the church from King Louis IX, and composed of 84 panes of glass depicting saints, prophets, and biblical scenes (it can be seen in the south transept);

North Rose Window Notre Dame Paris France

the North Rose Window (located in the north transept); and the West Rose Window (in the main façade).

Vaulted Arches and Great Organ Notre Dame Paris France

The Great Organ – installed below the West Rose Window and partially obscuring it from view, this 8000-pipe organ has been hanging here since the 14th century. Though restored and improved upon over the centuries, the Great Organ still has a few of the pipes from the Middle Ages.

The Treasury – intended as a reserve of treasures that could be melted down in times of crisis, this collection of sacramental objects and sacred relics includes the crown of thorns previously kept enshrined in Sainte Chapelle.

La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is one of several landmarks along the ‘Banks of the Seine’ recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage

Getting There:
Notre Dame Cathedral is located at 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Place Jean-Paul II on Île de la Cité. Get there with Métro (Line 4): Cité.

Ticket Info:

Admission (Cathedral) = FREE
Adult Admission (Treasury) = 3.00€
Adult Admission (Towers)  = 8.50€

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  1. By O Palácio de Versalhes – Paris & New York 25 Jan ’16 at 1:54 pm

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