The archaeological crypt at Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris has reopened with a new exhibition, 17 months after the famous French cathedral was devastated by fire. The crypt itself wasn't affected by the blaze, but remained closed as it had to undergo toxic lead-dust decontamination.

The exhibition is called Notre-Dame de Paris from Victor Hugo to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, and it takes place at the Crypte Archéologique de l'île de la Cité, just below the cathedral’s parvis. It centers on the roles played by both men in transforming the cathedral into the beloved landmark it is today. At the beginning of the 19th century, when Notre-Dame was 500 years old, it was a victim of vandalism and a lack of maintenance. Its physical state was so poor, there was even a suggestion of demolishing it.

A person watches a picure by Corinne Vionnet during the press preview of the exhibition from Victor Hugo to Viollet-le-Duc in the external crypt of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris
The exhibition takes place at the Crypte Archéologique de l'île de la Cité © Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images

This situation changed after Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was published, with the cathedral as the main character. The immense popularity of the novel created a public movement to support Notre Dame, and a far-reaching restoration project was led by architect Viollet-le-Duc from 1844 to 1864. He wanted to remain faithful to the medieval building, but also added a few creative additions. For instance, he was inspired by Victor Hugo novel to design the sculptures, in particular the grotesques high up on the cathedral.

Notre Dame cathedral at sunset in Paris, France
Notre Dame cathedral prior to the devastating fire © Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

Visitors to the exhibition will get to see old and fragile photos, drawings, paintings and extracts of films. The movie Notre Dame Eternelle will be presented, and visitors can discover the remains of Gallo-Roman fortifications and thermal baths at the crypt. It is the first part of the wider cathedral complex to reopen since the devastating fire in April 2019.

Further information is available from the website here.

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