In an elevated position in the center of the city of Chartres stands the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, one of the finest and best preserved Gothic buildings in France, with a three-aisled nave, transepts, a five-aisled choir and a ring of chapels round the ambulatory. After a series of devastating fires (743, 858, 1020, 1194), the original church, which is believed to have occupied the site of a Gallo-Roman temple, was almost completely rebuilt in its present form between 1195 and 1220 and consecrated in 1260.
Place de la Cathédrale, F-28000 Chartres, France
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The west front, built about 1140-1160 in the severe style of Early Gothic, survived the 1194 fire, and is flanked by two fine towers of differing height and form. The south tower (Clocher Vieux), a superb example of the purest Gothic style, was completed in 1170; the north tower (Clocher Neuf) has a spire which was added in 1507- 1513. Between the towers is the richly decorated Portail Royal (Royal Doorway), with statues which became models for the further development of Gothic sculpture. Above the three tall 12th century windows is a 13th century rose window 14 m/45ft in diameter, and above this again is the Gallery of Kings, with 16 large statues of kings of Judah. The richly articulated doorways in the transepts (13th century) also have magnificent sculptural decoration: on the south doorway the Last Judgment, on the north doorway the Virgin and Old Testament figures. Between two buttresses on the south side is the Chapel Vendôme, with Late Gothic stained glass (15th century). Adjoining the apse is the Chapelle St-Piat (14th century).
In the very impressive interior the windows, mostly dating from 1210-1260, form the most magnificent collection of medieval stained glass in existence, with a total area of more than 2,000 sq. m/21,500 sq. ft. Particularly beautiful are the three rose windows, over 11.5 m/38ft high. Other notable features are the Late Gothic choir screens (1514-1529), already showing Renaissance forms, with scenes from the life of the Virgin and the Gospels, and the 41 groups of statues (16th-18th century). On the north side of the choir is the Vierge du Pilier, a much revered figure of Notre-Dame de Chartres (c. 1510).
Below the choir and the lateral aisles are extensive crypts dating from Carolingian times and from 1024.
From the terrace to the east of the choir there is a fine view of the lower town.