Notre-Dame – Paris, France

No other building is so strongly associated with the history of Paris as the cathedral of Notre-Dame. It stands majestically on the Ile de la Cité, in the heart of the city. When the first stone was laid in 1163, it marked the start of 170 years of toil by armies of medieval architects and craftsmen. Since then, a succession of coronations and royal marriages has taken place within its walls. Built on the site of a Roman temple, the cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. When it was completed, in about 1330, it was 430 ft (130 m) long and featured flying buttresses, a large transept, a deep choir, and 228-ft (69-m) high towers.


Quasimodo became a famous Disney’s character

The novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), published in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, was written by the Romantic French novelist Victor Hugo (1802-85).

The hunchback of the title is the bell-ringer Quasimodo, ward of the cathedral, and the novel tells the story of his doomed love for a dancer, Esmeralda. Notre-Dame features strongly in the work and Hugo used his book to rail against its neglect, declaring that medieval cathedrals were “books in stone” and should be treasured. The novel aroused widespread interest in the restoration of the cathedral.



Notre-Dame’s interior grandeur is strikingly apparent in its high-vaulted central nave. This is bisected by a huge transept, at either end of which is a medieval rose window, 43 ft (13 m) in diameter. Works by famous sculptors adorn the cathedral Among them are Jean Ravy’s choir screen carvings, Nicolas Coustou’s Pieta, which stands on a gilded base sculpted by Francois Girardon, and Antoine Coysevox’s statue of Louis XIV. The 13th-century stained-glass North Rose Window depicts the Virgin encircled by figures from the Old Testament. A 14th-century statue of the Virgin and Child stands against the transept’s southeast pillar.


The Gothic style emerged in France around the end of the 12th century with the Basilica of St-Denis (1137-1281), north of Paris, where most of the French monarchs are buried. The pointed arch, the ribbed vault, tracery, and the rose window were all used to great effect there and were important features of the Gothic style. The desire to build taller, ever more magnificent, light-filled ecclesiastical buildings grew. Another key feature emerged with the use of flying buttresses, which provided support for high walls and helped redistribute their weight. With its soaring interior and stained- glass filtered light from the large rose windows, Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of the best-known and most impressive examples of the Gothic style. Across Europe in many countries, architects took to the style with enthusiasm.

West Facade and Portals


Two huge towers, three main doors, superb statuary, a central rose window and an openwork gallery are impressive features of the cathedral’s west facade.

South Rose Window


This window depicts the Virgin in a medallion of rich reds and blues.

Portal of the Virgin

The Virgin surrounded by saints and kings is a fine composition of 13th -century statues.

Galerie des Chimeres


The cathedral’s famous 16th -century gargoyles (chimeres) hide behind a large upper gallery between the towers.

King’s Gallery

This is a line of statues of the 28 kings of Judah and Israel.

Flying Buttresses


Jean Ravy’s spectacular flying buttresses at the east end of the cathedral have a span of 50ft (15m).

South Tower

The cathedral’ famous Emmanuel bell is housed in this tower.



Designed by Viollet-le-Duc this soars to a height of 295ft (90m).

View of the Interior


From the main entrance, the high-vaulted central nave, choir, and high altar give impression of great height and grandeur.

“May” Paintings

These religious paintings, by Charles Le Brun and Le Sueur, among others, were presented by Paris guilds every May 1 from 1630 to 1707.


This was built at the start of Philippe-Auguste’s reign, in the 13th century.

South Rose Window

The south facade window has 84 panes of glass divided into two circles that radiate out from a central depiction of Christ.


The cathedral’s holy artifacts, which include ancient manuscripts and reliquaries, can be viewed from here.


Notre-Dame has seen a number of coronations in its long history. Henry VI of England was crowned here in 1430, and Mary Stuart became queen of France after her marriage to Frangois II in the same year. In 1804, Napoleon became emperor of France, crowning first himself, and then his wife Josephine, here.


1163: Work begins when Pope Alexander III lays the foundation stone.
1793: Revolutionaries loot the cathedral and rename it the Temple of Reason.
1845: Architect Viollet-le-Due undertakes restoration work on the cathedral.
1991: Notre -Dame becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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