cathedral's setting on the banks of the
Seine has always
been memorable. Notre-Dame is the heart
of Paris and even of the country itself. Distances
from the city to all parts of France are
calculated from a spot at the far end of the place
du Parvis, in front of the cathedral, where a circular
bronze plaque marks Kilomètre Zéro.
The cathedral was begun in 1163, with an army of stonemasons,
carpenters, and sculptors working on a site that previoulsly
seen a Roman temple, an early Christian basilica,
and a Romanesque church. The chanel and the altar
were consecrated in 1182, but the magnificent sculptures
surrounding the main doors were not put into position
until 1240. The north tower was finished 10 years
Notre-Dame has grown and grown over the years, changing
as Paris has changed, often falling victims to whims
of decorative tastes. Its famous flying buttresses
( the external side supports, giving the massive interior
a sense of weightlessnes) were rebuilt in 1330.
Despite various changes in the 17th century, the cathedral
remained substantially unaltered until the French
Revolution. Then, the statues of the kings of Israel
were hacked down by the mob, chiefly because they
were thought to represent the despised royal line
of France, and everything inside and out that was
deemed" anti-Republican" was striped away.
An interesting postscript to this destruction occured
in 1977, when some of the heads of these statues were
discovered salted away in a bank vault on boulevard
Haussmann, They'd apparently been hidden there by
an ardent royalist who owned the small mansion that
now forms part of the bank. ( The restored head are
now on display in the Musée National du Moyen-Age.)
By the early 19th century, the excesses of the Revolution
were over, and the cathedral went back to fulfilling
its religious functions again. Napoléon crowned
himself emperor here in May 1804 (David's heroic painting
of the lavish ceremony can be seen in the Louvre).
started in the middle century, the most conspicuous
result of which was the reconstruction of the spire.
It was then, too, that Haussmann demolished the warren
of little buildinngs in front of the cathedral, creating
Place du Parvis.
Though many disagree, we feel Notre-Dame is more interesting
outside than in, and you'll want to walk all around
it to fully appreciate this "vast symphony of
stone" Better yet , cross over the pont au Double
to the Left Bank and view it from the quay