Of all the grand historical sites Paris has to offer perhaps the most striking is that of Notre Dame de Paris. Among the city’s ancient ecclesiastical buildings, the Notre Dame Cathedral strikes a chord with visitors of all faiths and religions, historians and tourists alike.
Situated on the Île de la Cité in the Seine, Notre Dame has captured the imagination of visitors for centuries. One of Paris’s oldest Cathedrals, construction began on Notre Dame in the 12th Century under the auspices of the city’s first Bishop, Maurice de Sully, who was integral in the Cathedral’s lofty design as a replacement for the former Saint Stephen’s.
Building work on the Cathedral spanned three centuries, with the foundation stone historically placed by Pope Alexander III in 1163. Its style was of the time in the then-titled Ogival style, now renowned as French Gothic architecture. The precise and intricate designs have led Notre Dame to be considered one of the world’s finest examples of French Gothic architecture today.
The Cathedral was also one of the first buildings in the world where flying buttresses were employed as structural support. The iconic structures appear around the Cathedral’s nave and choir section and were added to support the tall, thin walls, which suffered numerous stress fractures over the years of construction and development.
The architectural style of Notre Dame also bears several other influences, not least those of its numerous architects, whose varying approaches can be seen in the four styles of construction of the West-facing twin towers.
Absorbing nuanced design elements from its construction during the influential Renaissance period, which reigned from the 14th to the 17th century, Notre Dame also bears the hallmarks of Naturalism in its 19th Century renovation work, as well as numerous other artistic streams, which can be witnessed in the Cathedral’s paintings, sculptures and stained glass.
Although Notre Dame was severely damaged during the French Revolution in the 1790s, the Cathedral was restored to its present glory by famed French restoration architect, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th Century.
Today the Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Paris and welcomes hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, not to mention its congregation who attend regular Mass and services, daily. Mass is held four times a day at the cathedral and you can also attend daily evening Vesper services for free. Sunday boasts a full schedule of services and Mass with worshippers of all faiths invited to attend, reflect or pray privately.
Notre Dame is easy to reach using Paris’s integrated transport system, whether via the Metro, train, bus or on foot. Free tours are available daily, which last for approximately one hour and you can also enjoy discovering more about the Cathedral’s rich history through complimentary audio tours. In addition, the Cathedral’s Treasury is open to the public for a small fee and holds some of the Cathedral’s most prized religious possessions, which include furniture, paintings and decorative pieces from the neo-gothic 17th and 18th Centuries.
Notre Dame’s iconic twin West-facing towers are also open for further investigation, offering spectacular views of Paris’s 4th arrondissment as well as further afield. In the North Tower, you can marvel at the Cathedral’s 13 ton Emmanuel bell, or, from the external Portico, gain access to Notre Dame’s mysterious Crypt, which houses the original archaeological site of Paris’s ancient Roman ruins.
Like many who visit Paris, you too could find a trip to the Notre Dame de Paris an unforgettable experience. You could even look for nearby Paris hotels, which boast views of the romantic Cathedral, making it even easier to reach on foot during the day or night.