Even though I had been there many times before, when I happened to be on an unexpected, short transit visit to Paris between travelling to various countries in Africa, I decided to take the train from the airport straight to one of the key monuments of the French capital. The cathedral had been cleaned not long before, and it lies right in the heart of Paris. I got off the subway, and walked a few narrow streets in the neighbourhood just north of the Seine before reaching one of the bridges. The Notre Dame appeared on my right, and when I got closer, I saw that some culinary festival was going on, and that a small grandstand had been built right in front of the western facade: the Notre Dame turns 850 years in 2013. At first, I was not happy with it, because it blocked a good view of the cathedral, but when I climbed the grandstand and turned around, I realized it offered a view that you could not have otherwise. I could see the famous panels above the three portals, with the rich sculptural details, straight before my eyes, instead of looking up at them from the ground. As more and more people were arriving, I realized I had better enter before there would be too many people, so I walked through the St. Anne portal and found myself overwhelmed by the enormous space inside.
Somehow, the two square towers at the western facade make the Notre Dame cathedral look smaller than it really is. Once inside, you realize that this is a massive place of worship. Actually, it is one of the largest in the world. Construction started in 1163, after the previous cathedral of Paris had been demolished, as ordered by bishop Martin de Sully, and the Notre Dame would be finished almost two centuries later. A typical sample of the French Gothic style of building, what struck me most were the enormous stained glass windows inside. Through the many windows, coloured light entered the Notre Dame. I avoided as much as possible the groups of school kids who were touring the cathedral, and walked past the statues, sculptures, and many other smaller and bigger sights inside the cathedral, until I reached the transept, with the gigantic North and South Rose windows. One of the pieces de r�sistance of the Notre Dame, these hand-painted works of art are the obvious proofs of grandeur of the cathedral.
Close by, I found a long row of sculpted figures depicting religious scenes in the wooden choir wall, before I moved on to the eastern side of the Notre Dame. More stained glass windows; I was tempted to go into the treasury, which holds several remarkable objects like the crown of thorns, and part of the holy cross. I decided to walk on, as I first wanted to discover more of the cathedral itself. I walked back on the other side of the cathedral, and stood in the middle of the main aisle; when I looked up, the height of the building dazzled me. While imagery inside the Notre Dame got severely damaged in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the building itself has withstood 8 and a half centuries in its current dimensions. I toured the outside, too: looking up at the cathedral, at the flying buttresses supporting the tall walls (one of the first structures to use them), and the totally different view of the Notre Dame from the eastern side. Unfortunately, I did not have time anymore to climb the bell towers (there was an enormous queue), or go back to the treasury. Instead, I walked the other side of the Seine, on the lower quay, and looked up at the Notre Dame, proudly standing high with the grey sky as a background. I had to go back to the airport, and will surely be back. Such a grand monument deserves more than just one visit.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Notre Dame de Paris (France). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Notre Dame de Paris. Read more about this site.