If you want to go up into the towers and see the gargoyles up close and get some truly splendid views of Paris, you should make sure to come early. Today, I went up in the towers for the first time and to be honest I have mixed feelings about it. The Museum Pass will do you no good, you will have to wait in line just like anyone else.
Waiting will be a bit of a problem. Today, for example, I waited at least an hour and a quarter before we reached the front of the line. Once inside remember you will have to do a lot of climbing and in some places it is very narrow, make sure to hold on the railings and keep your eyes on what you're doing! Granted, for persons with limited mobility there is no elevator.
You get a totally different view of Notre Dame, in a way a look at the innards of how it was built and decorated on the outside. Of course the main attraction is seeing the assortment of gargoyles and chimeras, which is a lot of fun.
Please bear in mind that when you are out of the viewing platform, it is a rather confined space, so try to be patient with the others.
In the sense that you get a real good view of the Notre Dame from above and from the outside, and to the extent that you get amazing views of Paris, there is no doubt that this is worth the wait. Be aware, however, that after a while the gargoyles start to look the same, so you will find yourself noticing little intricacies in the construction.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is in early Gothic style cathedral. The place where Notre Dame now stands is through the history of the city has always been the religious center, It was the first cathedral built on such a monumental scale
The Gothic structure was a prototype for future cathedrals as Amiens, Chartres and Reims
The restauration luminance led by the Parisian architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc lasted twenty years and is very controversial because of the many changes that were made as the aisles and the new steeple
The cathedral was recently but this time taking into account between 1991 and extensively renovated in 2001, with the preservation of the existing historic architecture
Notre Dame is a very beautiful cathedral and definitely something you shouldn't miss on your visit to Paris. Unlike the other major churches I visited on my trip (St. Paul's Basilica and Westminster Abbey), Notre Dame did not charge us to get in, allowed photography (just no flash), and didn't have a giant gift shop, just a stand selling some rosaries and crosses as well as a few small souvenirs. There is a very peaceful atmosphere inside, as everyone is asked to be quiet and there are many candles around, lit by visitors in memory of someone or in prayer. The stained glass is absolutely gorgeous, and there are many different windows--no two are alike. We did not do the tour up top near the gargoyles, but if you would like to go up and see them up close (and I'm sure get great views of Paris), you can for a small fee (it was around 8 euros I believe). The gargoyles are really neat! You can sit on these sort of steps or bleachers they have across from the front of the cathedral and take pictures of the gargoyles at the top. There is a pretty garden behind Notre Dame and a bridge where people hang "love locks". The area around it has some of the nicer tourist shops I saw while in Paris. All in all, this is a very pretty part of Paris and definitely something that should be on the short list for your visit!
Most recent visit June 2013, the bell tower is currently not open but we did get to go to the top of the south tower
Although many of the figures that you can see from street level on the lower part of the cathedral are true gargoyles, decorative waterspouts used to preserve the building by diverting the rain water away from it, the more photographed figures on the upper levels are grotesques or chimères since they do not function as waterspouts but are still referred to by most people as gargoyles. These famous "gargoyles" don't have any function besides gazing over Paris and forcing tourists to work off a bit of the rich French food by climbing 387 steps for a better view of them.
Climbing to the top of Notre Dame is really the only way to get a good look at these gargoyles, they are located on the Galerie des Chimères (Grand Gallery) that connects the two towers. The climb is broken down into three stages, the 1st stop in a gift shop where you can purchase tickets if you don't have the Museum Pass, the 2nd stop at the Galerie des Chimères and the 3rd stop at the top of the south tower. No elevators to help you out here! Read the signs at the entrance, on two of our visits the 3rd stop wasn't open while we were there, hmmm, did someone decide not to go to work those days? Or maybe a very specialized employee strike?
The current gargoyles on the Galerie des Chimères are not original to the building, they date to the restoration started in 1845 by architect Viollet-le-Duc. Incidentally, Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame was written in 1831 before the renovation by Viollet-le-Duc and one of the original illustrations I saw had a couple of gargoyles on that level, did his illustrations inspire the addition of these gargoyles? Or were these just replacements?
Access to the towers of Notre Dame is included on the Museum Pass but you can't use the Museum Pass to skip the line like you can at other attractions as only so many people can go up at one time. If you get there 20-30 minutes before it opens at 10am, one of you can hold the place in line while the other tours the interior, on our most recent visit in June 2013, we arrived at 9:40am and the line was already pretty long, I think we started climbing around 10:20am.
It sounds like an unrealistic aspiration, but it is possible to have even Paris' most popular tourist attractions virtually to yourself if you are willing to visit out of season and/or get up early enough in the morning.
For example, the above photo was taken at 08:15 on a Sunday morning at the beginning of early March, when there was scarcely a soul around, apart from a trickle of people arriving for mass at 08:30. The beauty of visiting churches early in the day is that they are almost guaranteed to be open for early mass. And of course, the very best way of appreciating the architecture and acoustics of a church is to experience it performing the function for which it was designed.
For fear of stating the obvious, visitors need to demonstrate respect when visiting during services, so best to follow Homer's rules. It is rude and disrespectful to wander around whilst the service is in progress (particularly if it is being celebrated at the main altar rather than in a side chapel), so sit quietly until the service has ended and people start to leave. Similarly, visitors who are inappropriately clothed (for example, women in short mini skirts or other revealing outfits) may be asked to cover up and/or leave.
I love the concept of 'happenstance' - a chance occurrence that sometimes strangely aligns with other seemingly unrelated events. So unexpectedly encountering a statue of Charlemagne outside Notre Dame de Paris at the beginning of a trip which I had planned to end in Aachen - the city that Charlemagne raised to prominance - proved to be a perfect example of this concept.
Charlemagne is a fascinating figure who looms out of the otherwise anonymous mists of the Dark Ages. Although Charlemagne is often considered to be a German monarch, he was in fact King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor, who established a vast empire covering most of Western Europe, encompassing present day France, Switzerland, the Low Countries and swathes of Germany, Austria, Spain and Italy - not bad going for a man who was barely literate and never learned to write.
Indeed there seems to have been little that Charlemagne could not do: in fact, he was even elevated to saintdom, but – unfortunately for him – was canonised by an anti Pope during the Papal Schism in the Middle Ages, so his ‘saintly status’ is not recognised by the Church today. One cannot help thinking that this unfortunate blunder would have irked such a ‘can do’ sort of individual, but since this happened several hundred years after his death, this was one of the very few outcomes that he could not influence in his own favour. In all fairness, it seems likely that the qualities that allowed him to establish and maintain the most celebrated Empire of the Dark Ages (lots of militaristic marauding, self-interested diplomacy and general meting out of harsh discipline) are unlikely to tally with the contemporary qualifications for sainthood!
For more on Charlemagne, see my Aachen travel pages.
Update (October 2011): If you're interested in Charlemagne, you may be intrigued to know - as I discovered on my last visit - that both his mother and father are buried in the necropolis at St Denis, which is the last resting place of the majority of French royalty (see my St Denis travel tip). I already knew that his father was somewhat unfortunately known as Peppin the Short but it was a revelation to discover that his mother was called Bertha Bigfoot! Since Charlemagne was renowned for his great height (one of the meanings of the name Charlemagne is that 'Charles the Great' refers to his stature, not just his status), one can only presume that he took after his Mum, and given the unfortunate monikers that his parents endured, he may well have considered himself fortunate to be known as Carolus Magnus, Charlemagne or just plain Charles!
The original title of Victor Hugo’s blockbuster novel included the year, 1482. He chose that year because it was still in the Middle Ages but was a year without any outstanding historical events that might have interfered with his story.
Many of the crucial scenes of the novel take place in the upper reaches of the cathedral of Notre-Dame, up in the towers and galleries. Up there the fanatical priest Claude Frollo had his secret cubicle where he studied forbidden books about alchemy and where he received a mysterious cloaked visitor who turned out to be King Louis XI.
From up on the galleries Claude Frollo observed Esmeralda dancing and playing her tambourine in the square below, beginning his infatuation and deadly obsession with her.
Up there was where Quasimodo, the hunchback, carried Esmeralda after saving her temporarily from the hangman, and where he hid her in a secret room and supplied her with food and water. From up on the galleries Quasimodo repelled an invasion by hundreds of outlaws by pouring molten lead on them. Because he was deaf from years of bell-ringing up in the towers he didn’t understand that the outlaws were coming to save Esmeralda, not to hang her.
From a vantage point up on the galleries Claude Frollo laughed insanely as he watched Esmeralda finally being hung on the gallows below, until the horrified Quasimodo pushed him off and he fell to his death.
Second photo: In the cathedral looking up.
Third photo: The young man on this book cover is Victor Hugo in 1829 at age twenty-seven, shortly before he began writing Notre-Dame de Paris.
Fourth photo: The 14th century carvings around the outside of the choir show scenes from the life of Christ.
Fifth photo: A model shows how they built the cathedral from 1163 to 1345, using lots of muscle-power but also hand-cranked winches to help them lift the heavy stones.
Next review from January 2012: National Museum of the Middle Ages
"Notre Dame de Paris" also known as "Notre Dame Cathedral" or simply Notre Dame is a Gothic, Roman Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. It is the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris: that is, it is the church that contains the cathedra (official chair) of the Archbishop of Paris, currently André Vingt-Trois. The cathedral treasury houses a reliquary with the purported Crown of Thorns.
Notre Dame de Paris is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in France and in Europe, and the naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture. The first period of construction from 1163 into 1240s coincided with the musical experiments of the Notre Dame school.
The cathedral suffered desecration during the radical phase of the French Revolution in the 1790s, when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. An extensive restoration supervised by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc removed remaining decoration, returning the cathedral to an 'original' gothic state.
There are five bells at Notre Dame. The great bourdon bell, Emmanuel, is located in the South Tower, weighs just over 13 tons, and is tolled to mark the hours of the day and for various occasions and services, ringing in a resounding E♭. This bell is always rung first, at least 5 seconds before the rest. There are four additional bells on wheels in the North Tower, which are swing chimed. These bells are rung for various services and festivals. The bells were once rung manually, but are currently rung by electric motors. When it was discovered that the size of the bells could cause the entire building to vibrate, threatening its structural integrity, they were taken out of use. The bells also have external hammers for tune playing from a small clavier.
Its always a very well known and crowded area, summer or winter full of locals and tourist, several cafes around, where u can sip a drink and enjoy ur time in Paris ... :)
The most monumental facade and most famous of world tourism is certainly the west front with its two towers. It is recognizable between all the cathedrals of our old continent.
The less preferred side is the one on the north bordering the rue du cloître Notre-Dame.
One that is preferred by many visitors is the façade on the south that can be seen from the banks of the Seine. This is the best view, the favorite of painters and photographers.
The apse exterior of Notre Dame as seen from the Quai de la Tournelle also has many fans among the specialists of the best angle of view.
I tried to combine with my picture the two towers and the south facade. My small digital camera can not avoid the barrel distortion of the towers but is so much lighter in my pocket than my former non digital one with a much better lens!
You have to puff your way up nearly 400 steps of steep, circular staircase to do it but the panorama of Paris from the top of Notre-Dame's towers will be worth your aching knees. Here you'll also see a bell so large that it even has a name: Emmanuel. That one escaped the fate of its companions - melted down for cannon during the French Revolution - and is only rung during the most important of Christian observances. The others have been replaced, ring on the hours, and call the faithful to mass several times a day; lovely to hear if you're nearby. They don't need a Quasimodo to swing on the ropes anymore as they now chime via electric motor but it's not difficult to imagine Hugo's hunchback limping along the massive beams of these dusty belfries.
But most visitors come to see the chimères; those fanciful creatures keeping baleful watch over the rooftops of Paris. These differ from the gargoyles in the their purpose is strictly decorative and they are a much more recent addition to the architecture. The Galerie des Chimères was added during the mid-1800's restoration, and the church website has this to say about the figures:
"Although some of them may be frightening, they remind us that all creatures are the work of God, so they deserve His love and salvation"
My opening photo here is one you've likely seen many, many times before but it's something else again to shoot it yourself!
Entrance to the towers is covered under the Paris Museum Pass but there's no fast line so you'll be waiting in the queue with everyone else. Space is limited so they stagger groups of 20 every 10 minutes or so, and your visit will last just under an hour. See this website for for more information:
It isn't possible to condense the nearly nine centuries of the most famous of Paris' cathedrals into a couple of paragraphs so I'm not even going to try. Let's just say that with the indignities of vandalism, neglect and various other close calls the poor thing has suffered during its long, long history that it's nothing short of miraculous it has survived at all. Most interesting to me is that we owe Victor Hugo and a little novel called "The Hunchback Notre-Dame" for spurring the renaissance and restoration of a landmark plundered, defaced and left to deteriorate after the French Revolution.
It is also one of those rare churches that is more interesting on the outside than in. Its soaring towers, graceful flying buttresses, menacing gargoyles, intricate stone tracery and images of saints overshadow an interior largely stripped of original tombs and statuary - although the windows are beautiful. Those gargoyles? They are more than just ornaments; their long necks funnel rainwater away from the foundation and make a gargling sound from whence the name possibly originated. And why do they look so threatening? Theories are many: maybe to represent a monstrous mythical dragon of similar name; chase evil spirits away; or frighten wayward parishioners into repentance. A good look at a few of those things after a night of drunken revelry might just turn a sinner into a saint - until the next Saturday, anyway?
Entrance to the church is free; towers ( see next review) and crypt are not. All the usual guidelines for visiting sacred destinations apply: modest dress; no flash during services; quiet and respectful behavior; etc. See the website for hours and more info on the church.
There are two lines: the main one (free) to enter the cathedral and the one (price 8,50 €) to climb to the towers.
At Notre-Dame there are 14 millions visitors per year, an average of 40.000 every day. The tourists influx is non-stop from opening at 8 h to closing at 18.45 h (19.15 Saturdays and Sundays), all the year. With of course peak periods during all vacation periods.
Visitors enter by the right door. There is lining up (photo 1) but in absence of security check the movement is not slow. My photo was made in the summer but I have been inside in December with no line (photo 3).
For the visit of the Towers (8,50 €) the entry is located outside the cathedral on the left side of the front at rue du cloître Notre-Dame. For the tower there is a permanent line (photo 2) to visit all the high parts of the western facade dated from the thirteenth century. There is NO priority for the holders of the Paris museum pass.
There are renovation works till end August 2013 at the south belfry.
There are 387 steps with no elevator to reach the summit of the South Tower, it is recommended to be fit!
I did the climbing when I was a young man; I remember that is was possible to lie down on the leaden roof of the towers as the slope of that roof is gentle. Probably now forbidden-interdit!
Open each day 10 - 18.30 h from 1/04 -30/09; 10 - 17.30 h from 1/10 - 31/03.
This the portal on the left side. It was built between 1210 and 1220, the second of the three portals at Notre Dame.
The main scene shows her being crowned Queen of Heaven by one of the angels. She is sitting on the same throne as Jesus, a common artistic depiction in this period.
The scene right below it shows Mary on her death bed, surrounded by Jesus and the Apostles.
This is the center portal of the western facade and the last one to be completed (around 1230).
In the main panel you see Christ, now risen, showing his hands that had been crucified.
On his sides are the Virgin Mary and St John.
The panels below the main scene show two halves, the redeemed are on the left with the angel in the center, the damned are on the right with the demon preparing to take them away, Below that is the scene of the dead rising from their graves.
The detail is amazing, though its hard to see with the naked eye.
The first portal of the three (the one farthest to the right) is the Portal of St Anne. Though she is not mentioned in the Bible, St Anne was the mother of Mary, hence she was Jesus' grandmother.
On the throne in the center is Mary, holding Jesus. There are angels to their left and right. Beyond that in the center panel are the bishop of Paris and the King of France.