Gothic gargoyles! Why Notre-Dame in Paris, France is worth the trip.

More than 800 years of history in one Gothic building! 200 years in the making! And it has its own Disney movie! The Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Paris is an absolute must in Paris.

Here you’ll find good to know stuff, a hunchback, gargoyles, background history and how tourists saved the Notre-Dame from ruin!

WHY VISIT

I’m not religious at all, but I appreciate the architecture, the history and artwork, that different religions have created. In medieval Europe, the Christian church was the only institution being rich enough to build like this -along with a few kings. The cities grew because of trade, and the people supported the church – so the richer the city, the larger the church. Paris was wealthy!

If you are still not convinced why an old church is worth your time in a city full of temptations, here’s why:

  • The Cathedral is one of the largest and most well-known churches in the world.
  • It's free to enter the Cathedral
  • It's a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • It was once the largest religious building in Europe.
  • The reliquary contains some of the Catholic world's big treasures: the crown of thorns (allegedly)!

Even though this is my 5. trip to Paris, I always like to see Notre-Dame. Even more, now I work in different World Heritage Cathedral and know a lot more about Gothic architecture and what it takes to build a place like this.

WHAT TO SEE

Inside the Cathedral are many famous artworks and relics. The towers on the other hand has a spectacular view of Paris. Its’ free to enter the Cathedral, but to climb the towers you need to pay.

Top Catholic relics can be seen like the Holy Crown of Thorns, a piece of the Holy Cross and a nail from the cross. You also find the tunic of King Louis IX, an 18th-century organ with 8,000 pipes and the 3 famous stained-glass Rose windows built in the 13th century. 

CLIMB THE TOWER

I hadn’t been to the tower before, but it’s so worth it. If you want to visit the tower, you can book a timeslot on the spot or on an app JeFile. The entrance to the towers is 10 Euro. 

There are 422 steps to the top and you enter in groups, because you can’t go and down the stairs at the same time. It sounds high, but it’s not that bad.

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From the towers you can see almost as far as in the Eiffel Tower, but this is way cheaper.

The Travelling Sisters

HOW QUASIMODO & TOURISTS SAVED THE CATHEDRAL

The belfry is where the bell-ringer Quasimodo lives in the novel by Victor Hugo from 1831 “The hunchback from Notre-Dame”. It also houses the biggest bell of Notre-Dame, Emmanuel, weighing 13 tons, which you pass when visiting the tower.

Victor Hugo wrote the story to create awareness of the Gothic architecture, which was being torn down at that time. For instance, the large medieval stain glass windows had been replaced by white glass(!). Gothic architecture had been hopelessly unfashionable during the renaissance, but had a revival nurtured by rising nationalistic feelings in the 1800’s. 

The Gothic style originated in France in the 12th century and was originally just called French work. Gothic is a later name and not meant as a nice one…

The Gothic architecture is characterized by large windows, pointed arches, flying buttresses, and the ribbed vault – all of which you can clearly see in Notre-Dame. Without these inventions the roof would collapse on your head, and it also makes it possible to bring in a lot of light. Imagine building this without machines…

One of the most famous architectural feature is the gargoyles or grotesques. In the book by Hugo, the bell ringer talks to the gargoyles, and that’s probably why they’re alive in the Disney movie. They are used as decorations and waterspouts, although most of them were added during restorations in the 19th century to make it more medieval looking…

In the 1800’s, France began reminiscing. The book by Victor Hugo was such a hit in 1831, that tourists started pouring in, and the city of Paris had to restore the crumbling Gothic cathedral.

So the tourists actually saved Notre-Dame!

Like to have literature as a guide? Discover the ugly side of Saint Petersburg with Dostoevsky.

THE CROWDS

But the tourists kept coming, and today they are still bringing funds to the cathedral for restoration, but they are also wearing it down. You’ll not be the only one to visit. About 15 million people visit every year.

This is the queue to enter the Cathedral…

Don’t arrive early, but one hour before closing time. This will not only give you the shortest queue, but also the best picture. You can see in my pictures – when the building is grey, it’s morning.

But seriously some travellers are rude. Somebody actually pushed me to get a great shot and another was playing his newly recorded video of the choir – while they were still singing!

But for sure I will come back and talk to the gargoyles, about how Paris has changed over the last 800 years! 

(This was of course written before Notre-Dame burned – sigh)

In Paris? Head for more world-class culture in the Louvre and discover more than Mona Lisa in 12 other highlights.

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