Notre Dame de Paris


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Notre Dame de Paris, Western Facade.
Notre Dame de Paris, main entrance.
Notre Dame de Paris, main entrance.
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Notre Dame panorama, 1909.
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Night view of Notre Dame from the south, spring 2001.
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The Portal of the Last Judgement on the West Facade of the Cathedral
The interior of Notre Dame cathedral
The interior of Notre Dame cathedral

Notre Dame de Paris (French for "Our Lady of Paris," meaning the church in Paris dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus), often known simply as Notre Dame in English, is a gothic cathedral on the eastern half of the le de la Cit in Paris, France, with its main entrance to the west. While a major tourist destination, it is still used as a Roman Catholic cathedral (archbishopric of Paris).



The Notre-Dame de Paris stands on the site of Paris' first Christian church, Saint-tienne Basilica, which was itself built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple to Jupiter. Notre-Dame's first version was a "magnificent church" built by Childebert I, the king of the Franks at the time, in 528, and was already the cathedral of the city of Paris in the 10th century. However, in 1160, having become the "parish church of the kings of Europe", Bishop Maurice de Sully deemed the building unworthy of its lofty role, and had it demolished.

Construction began in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII, and opinion differs as to whether Bishop Maurice de Sully or Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone of the cathedral. Construction of the west front, with its distinctive two towers, only began in around 1200, before the nave had been completed. Over the construction period, numerous architects worked on the site, as is evidenced by the differing styles at different heights of the west front and towers. Between 1210 and 1220, the fourth architect oversaw the construction of the level with the rose window, and the great halls beneath the towers. The towers were completed around 1245, and the cathedral was completed around 1345.

During the reign of Louis XIV and Louis XV, at the end of the 17th century, the cathedral underwent major alterations — tombs and stained glass windows were destroyed. During the French Revolution, at the end of the 18th century, many of the cathedral's treasures were destroyed or stolen. The cathedral's great bells avoided being melted down, but the cathedral was used as a warehouse for the storage of food.

A restoration program was initiated in 1845, overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugne Viollet-le-Duc. The restoration lasted 23 years, and included the construction of a spire.

In 1871, a civil uprising leading to the establishment of the short-lived Paris Commune nearly set fire to the cathedral, and some records suggest that a mount of chairs within the cathedral were set alight.

In 1905, the law of separation of Church and State was passed; as all cathedrals, Notre-Dame remains state property, but its use is granted to the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1991, a major program of maintenance and restoration was initiated, which was intended to last 10 years, but is still in progress as of 2005, the cleaning and restoration of old sculptures being an exceedingly delicate matter.

Significant events at Notre-Dame

Generally, French Catholic religious events of national significance take place in Notre-Dame.

Details of the West Front

Diagram illustrating areas of the West Front of Notre Dame
Diagram illustrating areas of the West Front of Notre Dame

The west front of the cathedral is probably its most notable feature - with its 69-metre (228-feet) tall towers. The image to the right indicates some of the west front's most significant features.

  • The South Tower - houses the cathedral's famous bell, "Emmanuel". The bell weighs 13 metric tons (over 28,000 pounds), its clapper alone weighs 500 kilograms. The bell is Notre-Dame's oldest, having been recast in 1631.
  • The Galerie des Chimres or Grand Gallery connects the two towers, and is where the cathedral's legendary gargoyles (chimres) can be found.
  • The West Rose Window is 10 metres in diameter. Many of the elements of the stained glass window date back to the 13th century construction of the cathedral. In front of the window stands a statue of the Virgin Mary carrying the Baby Jesus.
  • The King's Gallery is a line of statues of the 28 Kings of Judah and Israel, which was redesigned by Viollet-le-Duc to replace the statues destroyed during the French Revolution. The revolutionaries believed the statues to represent the French kings, and decapitated them.
  • The three Portals of the west front depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary (Portal to the Virgin), Christ enthroned judging the living and dead (Portal of the Last Judgement), and scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary's mother (Portal to Saint Anne).

Miscellaneous trivia

  • France's "kilometre zero," the reference point for distances along the highways starting in Paris, is situated in the square in front of the cathedral.
  • The cathedral was featured in the film Before Sunset.
  • During the early 19th Century, the cathedral was in a state of disrepair, and city planners began to contemplate tearing it down. French novelist Victor Hugo, an admirer of the cathedral, wrote his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (titled in French Notre Dame de Paris) in part to raise awareness of the cathedral's heritage, touching off renewed interest in the cathedral's fate. A campaign to collect funds to save the cathedral followed, culminating in the 1845 restoration.


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