The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Paris Travel Blog

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The Notre Dame Cathedral (full name: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, "Our Lady of Paris") is a beautiful cathedral on the Île de la Cité in Paris. Begun in 1163 and mostly completed by 1250, Notre Dame is an important example of French Gothic architecture, sculpture and stained glass.


The locals will tell you that Notre Dame is the most popular monument in Paris and in all of France, beating even the Eiffel Tower with more than 12 million visitors each year.

But the famous cathedral is also an active Catholic church, a place of pilgrimage, and the focal point for Catholicism in France - religious events of national significance still take place here.


The Notre Dame Cathedral stands on the site of Paris' first Christian church, Saint Etienne basilica, which was itself built on the site of a 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.

They began Construction on the current cathedral in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII. Construction of the west front and the two towers, began in around 1200 before the nave had been completed. Over the construction period, many 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 finished around 1245 and the cathedral was finally completed around 1345.

During the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV at the end of the 17th century the cathedral underwent major alterations and many of the tombs and stained glass windows were destroyed.  In 1793, the cathedral was a victim of the French Revolution.

Many sculptures and treasures were destroyed or plundered. Lady Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. The cathedral also came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food. Napoleon Bonaparte, who had declared the Empire on May 28, 1804, was crowned Emperor at Notre-Dame in December 1804. They began a restoration program for 23 years in 1845 which gave them the spires.


Notre-Dame remains state property, but its use is granted to the Roman Catholic Church.

The west front of the cathedral is one of its most notable features, with its two tall towers that are over 220ft high. The South Tower houses the cathedral's famous bell, "Emmanuel." The gargoyles are full of Gothic character but are not medieval - they were added during the 19th-century restoration.


The three west portals of Notre Dame Cathedral are magnificent examples of early Gothic art. They are scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, the Last Judgment, and scenes from the life of St. Anne (the Virgin Mary's mother). Many of the statues, especially the larger ones, were destroyed in the Revolution and remade in the 19th century.

The tympanum features the Coronation of the Virgin, with an angel crowning Mary while Christ blesses her and gives her a scepter. The top lintel depicts the Death of the Virgin - Mary lies on her death bed (corresponding to the Nativity bed in the same position on the right portal) surrounded by Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. Two angels at her head and feet lift up her up to Heaven. The bottom lintel has three Old Testament prophets (left) and three Old Testament kings (right), all holding scrolls representing prophecies of Christ.

The archivolts are populated by the Heavenly Court (angels, patriarchs, kings, prophets). The door-jamb statues, destroyed at the Revolution and replaced in the 19th century, represent,: Emperor Constantine, an angel, Saint Denis holding his head, another angel, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Stephen, Saint Genevieve and Pope Saint Sylvester.

The abutments of the doors have panels representing the natural universe, or life on earth.

The stained glass windows of the Notre-Dame are very beautiful and a good part of them date from the 13th century when the cathedral was constructed. The main theme of the west rose is human life. One of the other windows has biblical scenes including the flight into Egypt, healing of the paralytic, Judgment of Solomon, and Annunciation.


The place is really dark inside and you are allowed to take photos. If you have a small camera like me, your shots will not work too well. The crowds can be overwhelming. I was surprised that even through a service will be going on, tourist are still allowed to wander through. You can also go up in the tower which will run about 8 euros. There are 387 steps to the top. The south tower is where you can see the 13 ton bell that is rung on special occasions. You can also visit the crypts below and that cost 3 Euros.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame which Victor Hugo wrote back in the 1800’s is a great historical romance. The story revolves around a beauty-and-the-beast theme, in which the selfless love of the misshapen bell ringer Quasimodo is contrasted with the corrupt lust of the cathedral's archdeacon, for the beautiful gypsy dancer Esmeralda. Although the style is realistic, especially in the descriptions of medieval Paris and its underworld, the plot is melodramatic, with many ironic twists. It was pretty cute to see a man dressed as the Hunchback out front of the cathedral from children to take a snap shot with. It made you smile as you waited in line to enter. There are also a lot of guys out selling small key chains. Great price, buy them.

emmllerg says:
Enjoy your next vacation to Paris
Posted on: Jun 02, 2013
nik2blessed says:
another historic place I will have to see
Posted on: May 28, 2010
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photo by: Sweetski