Antique Architecture at Notre Dame, Paris

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After traveling to Paris three times, Notre Dame is always at the top of my list.  It is one of the most iconic and beloved cathedrals in the world.  Located on the Île de la Cité, an island in the heart of Paris, Notre Dame is highly celebrated as a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.  

Exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral

In this post, I will share the history of the cathedral, why you should visit it, some interesting things to see inside, and tips for visitors. 

History of Notre Dame

The construction of Notre Dame, a Gothic-style cathedral, was initiated in 1163 under the leadership of King Louis VII. It took over a century to complete.  However, the structure underwent additions throughout the centuries.

Notre Dame’s architectural design features elements of style such as pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, and stained-glass windows.

Significant changes were made to the cathedral over time including the addition of rose windows, a spire, and gargoyles, as well as restoration work on both the facade and interior during the 20th century.

Throughout history, Notre Dame has held importance in Frances’s political and cultural life. It served as a venue for coronations, weddings, funerals, and ceremonies involving Parisians. Notable events include Napoleon’s coronation in 1804; Henry IV and Marie de Medici’s wedding in 1600; Charles de Gaulle’s funeral in 1970; and the celebration of Paris liberation in 1944.

Tragically on April 15th, 2019, a devastating fire consumed Notre Dame resulting in damage that has taken over 5 years to repair.  Currently undergoing reconstruction efforts, the cathedral is anticipated to reopen by December 2024.

Why Visit Notre Dame

I’m glad that I visited the cathedral on one of my previous trips to Paris because it suffered a lot of damage from a fire just 4 weeks later. It proves that we should not take the beauty of this cathedral for granted.

Notre Dame is a must-see attraction for anyone who visits Paris, whether you are a first-time or repeat visitor. After every visit, it seems like I see something I didn’t notice before. Like the ringing of the bells through trees or how the sun casts an orange hue in the golden hour. 

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Every time I approach the entrance, I am struck by the stone facade. The carved details and statues seem to tell centuries of stories about the catholic faith. The statues standing side by side above the doorways remind me of sentinels who watch the city to guard the innocent.

If you are short on time during your visit to Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the stops of the Big Bus Tour. The tour takes about 2 hours and is a great way to see Notre Dame in the City of Lights. 

What to See 

Get ready to be inspired! These are descriptions of the most magnificent sights I encountered at the cathedral.

The Entrance of Notre Dame

Exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Square Towers of Notre Dame Cathedral

Anyone who visits can’t help but notice the two solid square towers that soar high into the sky. Between them, a round rose window of stained-glass glows like a kaleidoscope of colors.

Carving at front door of Notre Dames Cathedral.
Front door of Notre Dames Cathedral

The three doors on the west facade entrance depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, the Last Judgment, and the childhood of Christ. They are intricately decorated with carvings and statues of biblical figures and saints.

The Interior of Notre Dame   

As I passed through the main door, I ran my hand along the cool, weathered stone, worn smooth by countless visitors before me. Looking up, I could see the iconic flying buttresses reaching out like arms clutching the cathedral walls.

Rose Windows at Notre Dame Cathedral.
Rose Windows at Notre Dame Cathedral

The rose windows are one of the largest and most beautiful exhibits in the world. They are composed of thousands of pieces of stained glass that create dazzling patterns of light and color. There is one at the west entrance, and two more rose windows can be viewed at the north and south sides of the cathedral.

Interior at Notre Dame Cathedral.
Cathedral’s nave

A cathedral’s nave is where the congregation gathers for worship. It is a very long and tall gallery supported by large pillars to form four aisles. The nave contains statues, paintings, and tapestries that depict the church’s history and beliefs.

Choir section at Notre Dame Cathedral.
Choir Section

The choir section is behind the altar where the clergy and the choir members sit. The pipe organ (currently under restoration) brings music with reverb and precision while music selections range from Gregorian Chants to Renaissance. Attending a classical concert in a Parisian church would be the highlight of your visit.  

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Some of the cathedral’s most valuable and sacred objects are displayed in the treasury. It includes crosses, chalices, and other artifacts that contain fragments of the True Cross, the Holy Nail, and the Holy Sponge.

Tombe de Louis-Ernest Dubois.
Tombe de Louis-Ernest Dubois

The towers are accessible by a spiral staircase. The concrete and marble stairway leads to a panoramic view of the city and a close-up look at the gargoyles and the bells of the cathedral. The largest and most famous bell is called Emmanuel and weighs 13 tons. It is rung on special occasions, like Easter and Christmas.

Tips for Visitors

Dress appropriately. Many European cathedrals have dress codes requiring covered shoulders and knees. Try to avoid wearing shorts or tops with bare shoulders. When traveling, I carry a wrap or shawl to make entry a breeze.

Be respectful. Cathedrals are still sacred spaces attended by locals for prayer and mass. Speak softly, turn off your phone ringer, and don’t take flash photos during services.

Allow enough time. Notre Dame is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world and there is much to admire. We had to give ourselves at least 1.5 hours to wander through the cathedral.

Consider seeing the cathedral from a different perspective. We took a boat on the Seine River to see other facets of the building.

Don’t arrive with luggage. If you are leaving or arriving in Paris with Notre Dame on your list, you’ll need to find a place to store your bags before you get there. Entry with luggage is not allowed. 

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Final Thoughts on Notre Dame Cathedral

During restoration, travelers can visit the square, the statue of Charlemagne, and the archeologic crypt beneath the square. 

Admission was always free to enter, but given the costs of restoration and the losses, I wouldn’t be surprised if they charged for payment. Before the fire, there was a fee to access the towers and the treasury before the fire and that will likely remain.

The app we used to enter with free admission had a wait time of up to 4 hours. I can only imagine what the wait will be like when the re-opening occurs. Travelers will visit from every corner of the globe to see the monumental effort to restore the cathedral identically as it once was.  

If you want someone to guide you through the history, there are many guided tours available. Just pick one suited to you and your group.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame Cathedral will always be a must-see sight in Paris. 

Bio: Tanya of Travels and Treasures

Tanya from Travels and Treasures.
Tanya from Travels and Treasures

Tanya is a freelance writer and content creator of Travels & Treasures. She has lived in Chicago for over 30 years. Tanya has visited 43 of the 50 United States, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the UK. She writes to guide your next adventure to hidden gems or top tourist sights in Chicago and abroad. Follow Tanya from Travels and Treasures on Facebook  |  Instagram  |  Twitter  |  YouTube

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Pinterest images of Entrance, Rose stained glass window, Tombe de Louis-Ernest Dubois.
Pinterest images of Square towers entrance of Notre Dame Cathedral.

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