Notre Dame de Paris means 'Our Lady of Paris' in French. Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, the finest example of French Gothic architecture, is located on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in Paris, and has its main entrance on the west. The cathedral was one of the first buildings in the world to have arched exterior supports (flying buttresses). Its interiors show a heavy influence of naturalism rather than the earlier Romanesque architecture. The construction of the building began in 1163 and was completed in 1250, although a few remaining elements weren't added till 1345.
It is the most popular monument in France―even more popular than the Eiffel Tower―with 13 million tourists visiting it annually. Besides being such a famous global tourist spot, it is also the Cathedral of Catholic Archdiocese of Paris, which means that the church contains the 'cathedra', or the official chair of the Archbishop of Paris. The cathedral is an active church and a place of pilgrimage, with many religious events still taking place here.
The Notre Dame de Paris stands on the site where the first Christian church in Paris, the Saint Etienne Basilica, once stood. This earlier church was considered the cathedral of the city of Paris till the 10th century, but in 1160 the Bishop Maurice de Sully viewed the structure of the church as being unworthy of its position, and got it demolished.
The construction of its replacement began in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII. It is clearly evident from the different styles and heights of the west front and the tower that not one but many artists were involved in its construction and design.
Later, between 1210 and 1220, the rose windows and great halls beneath the tower were built. The construction of the towers was finished around 1245, but the cathedral was completed around 1345. During the French Revolution in 1793, many of the sculptures and artifacts of the church were destroyed, and on several altars the Virgin Mary was replaced by Lady Liberty. The restoration work on the church, conducted under architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, lasted for 23 years.
Things to See
One of the most notable features of the church is its west front. It has two 69-meter tall towers. A 13-ton bell (its clapper weighing 500 kilograms), called 'Emmanuel', is inside the South Tower. This is the oldest bell in the Notre Dame. There is a Grand Gallery that connects the two towers and where legendary gargoyles, added in the 19th century restoration, can be found. The beautiful West Rose Window is 10 meters in diameter. Its main feature is the theme of human life, depicting scenes such as Zodiacs and Labors of the Months.
There are 28 statues of the 28 kings of Judah and Israel. These were destroyed in the French Revolution, but were redesigned by Viollet-le-Duc. The three west portals are splendid examples of Gothic architecture. Many of the portals were destroyed during the French Revolution. They depict the life of Virgin Mary, the Last Judgment, and scenes from the life of St. Anne (Virgin Mary's mother). These portals and stained glass windows are very beautifully designed, and are a visual delight.
With so many portals, great window artworks, and Gothic architecture, Notre Dame de Paris is undoubtedly France's most valuable monument. What is more astounding is the fact that the cathedral is still an active Catholic church. If you are an art lover and admire old Gothic architecture, visiting the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral must have the top spot on your travel wishlist.