To finish up this tour of the Île de la Cité, we headed to the Notre-Dame, one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. The first stone of this spectacular structure was laid way back in 1163 by either Bishop Maurice de Sully, or Pope Alexander III, no one really knows. It was built to replace the existing Parisian cathedral, Saint-Etienne. Bishop Maurice de Sully had it torn down as it wasn’t ‘worthy’ of the city, and so he began works on Notre-Dame. Well that’s the story anyway. Archaeological excavations suggest there was a huge structure there before construction began on the cathedral as we see it now.
It is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture that exists today. It took around 200 years to finish, and was one of the first to use flying buttresses to hold up the walls. When stress fractures began to emerge around the choir and the nave, they were added to stop the building from crumbling down. Apparently, the entire exterior of the Notre-Dame used to be painted, but obviously that has all worn off now!
The cathedral was a symbol of religious authority in France, and as such, was a target of Revolutionary anger. During the French Revolution, the cathedral was rededicated to the ‘Cult of Reason’; an atheistic religion popular amongst the Revolutionaries which aimed to replace Catholicism. Many of the treasures were plundered or destroyed, the spire was torn down, and statues were beheaded. Completely unnecessary if you ask me! Later on, in 1977, the heads were found and can now be found in the Musée de Cluny.
Restoration programmes began in 1845, during which time a taller and more elaborate spire was added, as well as the Galerie des Chimères, by the architects, Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc. The Galerie can be seen better from the top of the towers, so of course we made our way up there!
You get such an amazing view over the city in all directions! From the Eiffel Tower, to the Sacre-Coeur, and straight down to the Parvis too.
The Parvis is the area in front of the cathedral, in which you can find Point Zero. This is the point from which the distance to/from Paris is measured. It’s pretty much the centre of the city! It’s always packed with tourists, queuing to get inside the Notre-Dame, and is also a feeding ground for a lot of the city’s pigeon population!
The parvis has seen a variety of spectacle over the centuries. Back in 1572, Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV of France) was married to Marguerite of Valois in the Parvis de Notre-Dame. Usually, kings or nobility would be allowed to marry inside the cathedral, but seeing as Henry was a Protestant, he was not admitted and had to marry in the square outside. Jump forward 399 years, Phillipe Petit tightrope-walked between the towers of the Notre-Dame. Why not?!
You can’t talk about Notre-Dame without thinking of its famous hunchbacked resident. Despite being a marvel in itself, the cathedral continues to draw in fans of Victor Hugo’s 1831 work. You’ll also find cafés and restaurants around the cathedral, such as ‘Le Quasimodo’, aiming to milk the most money from literature-loving tourists. Slightly pessimistic, but still true!
I hope this collection of posts have been at least a little bit interesting, but we’re at the end now! I’ve uploaded a lot of my Île de la Cité photos to Flickr so you can take a look at them there if you fancy!