Lonely Planet review
Notre Dame, Paris' most visited unticketed site with upwards of 14 million visitors crossing its threshold a year, is a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. It was the focus of Catholic Paris for seven centuries, its vast interior accommodating 6000-plus worshippers.
Highlights include its three spectacular rose windows , treasury , and bell towers which can be climbed. From the North Tower, 400-odd steps spiral to the top of the western facade, where you’ll find yourself face-to-face with frightening gargoyles and a spectacular view of Paris.
Built on a site occupied by earlier churches and, a millennium before that, a Gallo-Roman temple, Cathédrale de Notre Dame was begun in 1163 according to the design of Bishop Maurice de Sully and largely completed by the early 14th century. The cathedral was badly damaged during the Revolution; architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc carried out extensive renovations between 1845 and 1864.
Notre Dame is known for its sublime balance, though if you look closely you’ll see all sorts of minor asymmetrical elements introduced to avoid monotony, in accordance with standard Gothic practice. These include the slightly different shapes of each of the three main portals.
Inside, the central choir , with its carved wooden stalls and statues representing the Passion of the Christ, is noteworthy. The trésor (treasury) in the southeastern transept contains artwork, liturgical objects and first-class relics. Among these is the Ste-Couronne, the ‘Holy Crown’, which is purportedly the wreath of thorns placed on Jesus’ head before he was crucified, brought here in the mid-13th century. It’s exhibited between 3pm and 4pm on the first Friday of each month, 3pm to 4pm every Friday during Lent, and 10am to 5pm on Good Friday.
Notre Dame is very much the heart of Paris – so much so that distances from Paris to every part of metropolitan France are measured from place du Parvis Notre Dame , the vast square in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris where crowds gather in the after sun to admire the cathedral facade, pose for 'selfies' with catrhedral backdrop, and hang out. A bronze star across the street from the cathedral’s main entrance marks the exact location of Point Zéro des Routes de France .
One of the best views of the cathedral is from square Jean XXIII , the little park behind the cathedral, where you can better appreciate the forest of ornate flying buttresses that encircle the chancel and support its walls and roof. Don't miss the line-up of bells in the garden here: In 2013, to celebrate the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame, the cathedral was kitted out with nine new bells to compliment the original, 13-tonne bell Emmanuel (all of the cathedral’s bells are named). At the same time, the four less-tuneful bells added in 1856 were removed and displayed for posterity instead in square Jean XXII.