Notre-Dame gargoyle surveying Paris 07 Dec 2016
About this photo
Climbing the spiral staircase up the north tower of Notre-Dame and emerging onto the gallery high up on the west front, eye-to-eye with the gargoyles and chimeras, is an unmissable experience in Paris. There is probably no better place to reflect on the skill of the medieval stonemason and the faith that makes this one of France’s great Gothic cathedrals. An additional hike takes you up the south tower past the giant 17th-century bourdon bell, Emmanuel, and onto the roof itself, to be met by the view immortalised in the brilliant 1939 film version of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – where Charles Laughton scuttles across the rooftop as Quasimodo. In fact, the original French title of the book is Notre-Dame de Paris, which suggests that the true hero of the tale is the cathedral itself. Hugo was passionate about the monument, though he complained about its decrepit, mutilated state and campaigned for its restoration.
Restoration eventually began in the 1840s by fervent Gothic Revivalist Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Some of his chimeras are no doubt too Gothic to be true but the works did save the cathedral, famed – despite a rather gloomy interior – for its three richly carved portals, its rose windows and massive flying buttresses.
This is Paris’ most visited monument, and yet still very much a place of worship: used for services and organ recitals, state funerals and a vast procession for August’s Fête de l’Assomption.
See this Gothic masterpiece for yourself, and enjoy a view of it from the River Seine during a fabulous dinner cruise, as part of our Luxury Paris trip.