Notre Dame stands in the middle of the city on the island where Paris was born. It’s seen centuries of sunrises and sunsets and generations of people have walked in its shadow. On a recent trip, I decided to get up early and see the day begin in this iconic place, just as it had through history. This proved to be an unforgettable experience. It’s remarkable to see this “tourist attraction” without crowds milling around. It was almost deserted except for the little birds in the front courtyard.The side of the building was still in shadow.
I recommend a visit to Notre Dame at sunrise, sunset, or any time of day. It’s a breathtaking French Gothic cathedral built between 1160 and 1260. The two towers give Notre Dame its recognizable look. They were the tallest structures in the city until the arrival in 1889 of the Eiffel Tower.
Notre Dame fell victim to the French Revolution in the 1790s. Its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. The French, inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, later decided to restore the grand building. More recently, in the 1960s, the facade of the building was cleaned. Centuries of grime and soot came off, revealing the original color. Further restoration took place at the end of the 1900s to ready the cathedral for the new millennium. Be sure to look up as you enter. The sculptures of the last judgment and the 12 apostles will amaze you. The inside of Notre Dame is spacious and filled with art. The three Rose Windows are famous. If you arrive when a service is being held, you can still go in. But you will be asked to be quiet and respectful. You may have heard of the flying buttresses that help support the walls and prevent the roof from causing collapse. These are visible from the back of Notre Dame. No one knows for sure when the original flying buttresses were first added, but they were in place by the end of the 13th century. By carrying so much weight, they allow for higher walls and more windows. The main spire weights 750 tons. It’s good to know it’s been restored through the years and stands firm. As you walk around Notre Dame, you’ll find so many details to enjoy. I love looking up at all the gargoyles pointing into space. I learned recently that they are actually rainwater spouts. And here’s a sculpture that caught my eye. After taking in the sunrise on Notre Dame, we crossed the Seine and found a cozy cafe for lattes and croissants — a perfect way to start a day in Paris.
How about you? Have you been to Notre Dame Paris? Or do you have another favorite cathedral?
Notre Dame opens at 8:00 a.m. every day and closes at 6:45 on weekdays and 7:45 on weekends. Entry is free; there is a small fee to climb the dome. The line was too long and I’ve never been up in this dome. So I must return!
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