Paris Tourist Attractions - Visiting Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral is situated right in the very heart of Paris. Its site in the Isle de la Cite was already the location of two earlier churches -- one from the 4th Century and a later one dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The remnants of both these churches were to provide the foundations for the present basilica.

The inspiration to build Notre Dame came from Maurice de Sully who had become Bishop of Paris in 1160. He decided to demolish both existing churches and to proceed with the building of a new larger church. The first stone of this new church was laid in 1163 by King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III.

During the Revolution the cathedral suffered serious damage. The transept spire was destroyed as well as the statues from the portals and from the Kings' Gallery. Remnants of these statues were found two centuries later in 1977 during excavations. During the period of the Revolution, the cathedral was turned into of wine warehouse as well as other inappropriate uses.

Napoleon reintroduced some dignity to the cathedral when during the course of a solemn ceremony he reintroduced Catholicism to the state. He also used Notre Dame as the setting for his self-coronation as Emperor.

Notre Dame de Paris is built in the form of a crucifix, demonstrating the unique importance of the Church in the Middle Ages. It is 402 feet in length and 41 feet in width, with the nave reaching to a height of 115 feet. Its pillars are up to 16 ft in diameter. The towers are 226 ft high and 368 stairs are required to access the top.

After the popular success of Victor Hugo's book Notre-Dame de Paris, published in 1831, attention was again focused on the poor condition of the building, prompting King Louis-Philippe to issue a decree in 1844 to restore the cathedral. During the 19th century, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussman, Napoleon III's city planner, had all houses built around the cathedral expropriated and demolished in order to free the facade.

In the Commune uprisings of 1871, the cathedral was almost burnt down by the communards and reports support the fact that a fire, made of chairs, was set inside the cathedral. Fortunately, the building managed to escape catastrophic damage.
Today, Notre Dame is recognized as one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. It is the most visited monument in France with upwards of 10 million visitors per year.

Don’t Miss:
• At the Western gate the bronze star indicates the zero kilometer point. Here you are at the very centre of Paris and all distances in Paris and throughout France use this point as their reference.
• Nearby, at the exterior of the cathedral, you can gain access to the Crypts. This veritable archaeological museum is well worth a visit.

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