Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris

Notre-Dame de ParisNotre-Dame de Paris
The foundation-stone of the Cathedral of Notre- Dame de Paris was laid in 1163. Louis IX (St Louis) and Bishop Maurice de Sully, its founders, wanted to build on the Ile de la Cité a church which should resemble in style and beauty the first Gothic church which the Abbot of Saint-Denis had begun to build in 1135. The building of Notre-Dame extended over 150 years, during which all the various phases of Gothic architecture - partly taken over from the great cathedrals of Chartres, Reims and Amiens - were reflected in its structure.
The choir was built between 1163 and 1182, the nave between 1180 and 1200, both in Early Gothic style. The transition to High Gothic can be seen in the west front (1200-20) and the nave as altered between 1230 and 1250, pure High Gothic in the transepts (1250-60) and the choir as altered between 1265 and 1320.
Here, as later at Saint-Denis, the great 19th C restorer Viollet-le-Duc carried out an admirable restoration (1841-64) of the Cathedral, then badly dilapidated.
Official site:
Address: Parvis de Notre Dame, F-75004 Paris, France

Notre-Dame de Paris Highlights

West Front

The monumental and finely balanced west front of Notre-Dame in Paris reveals on closer examination the sequence of building phases and hence the development of the High Gothic style. The doorway (c. 1200), the window level (c. 1220), the traceried balustrade above the rose window and the unfinished towers (1225-50) illustrate the progressive refinement of the formal language of Gothic. The tripartite vertical articulation reflects the tripartite division of the interior into nave and aisles. The five horizontal sections (the doorway level, the Gallery of Kings, the windows, the traceried gallery, the towers) also correspond to different levels in the interior (the doorway zone to the arcading, the gallery of kings to the internal galleries, the window zone to the high windows in the interior).

Crypte Archeologique

There is an unobstructed view of the west front of Notre-Dame, even when there are crowds of tourists, from the Parvis Notre-Dame, the square in front of the cathedral. Under the square is the 117m/384ft long Crypte Archéologique, opened to the public in 1980, which contains the remains of houses of the 16th-18th centuries, the Merovingian church of Saint-Etienne and Gallo-Roman buildings discovered during the construction of an underground parking lot. The entrance to the excavations, which are clearly laid out, with explanatory notes, is at the staircase leading to the underground parking lot.
In the center of the square is a bronze plaque marking the official geographical center of Paris, from which all distances are measured.
Address: Parvis de Notre Dame, F-75004 Paris, France
Excavations under Parvis - Map Excavations under Parvis Map

Gallery of Kings

The identity of the figures in the Gallery of Kings at Notre-Dame was for long uncertain, since their heads had been struck off during the Revolution. The discovery of 21 of the original heads in 1977 established that they were not kings of Judah, as had at one time been thought, but kings of France from Childebert I (511-588) to Philippe Auguste (1180-1223). The heads are now in the Musée de Cluny.


The right hand doorway at Paris' Notre-Dame is the magnificent Portail de Sainte-Anne (1210-20). The lower register of the tympanum depicts the story of Joachim and Anne, the Virgin's parents (the annunciation of Mary's birth, the meeting at the Golden Gate and the marriage of Mary and Joseph); in the middle zone are Mary in the Temple, the Annunciation and Nativity of Christ, the Annunciation to the Shepherds and Herod with the Three Kings; and above this again is the Virgin enthroned with the Infant Christ, surrounded by the heavenly host, to left and right of which are the kneeling figures of a king and a bishop, presumably Louis IX and Maurice de Sully, founders of the Cathedral. The sculptures in the upper and middle sections, carved between 1165 and 1175 for a different doorway, are the oldest in the Cathedral. On the intrados is the heavenly choir, on the central pier St Marcellus, bishop of Paris (19th century copy), and on the side walls are French kings and saints. The four figures in the recesses between the buttresses represent (from left to right) St Stephen, the Church triumphant, the Synagogue defeated and St Dionysius.
In the tympanum of the central doorway, the Portail du Jugement Dernier (originally 1220-30, destroyed in 18th century, restored by Viollet-le-Duc), is a representation of the Last Judgment: at the top, Christ the Judge (original); below this, the Archangel Michael directing the righteous to heaven and the damned to hell; below this again, the resurrection of the dead. On the intrados are (left) the choir of the blessed being received by Abraham in paradise and (right) hell, with grotesque demons; on the central pier is a figure of Christ (19th century). On the door jambs are the wise (left) and foolish (right) virgins; on the side walls are the 12 Apostles (19th century); and the reliefs along the base depict virtues (above) and vices (below); the figures on the right are original.
In the tympanum of the left-hand doorway, the Portail de la Vierge (1210-20), are (top) the Assumption of the Virgin, (middle) the Burial of the Virgin, with Christ and the Apostles, and (bottom) the Ark of the Covenant, with three prophets and three Old Testament kings. In the archivolts are angels with censers and torches, patriarchs, prophets and the Forefathers of Christ, and on the jambs and the sides of the central pier, which bears a figure of the Virgin (by Viollet-le-Duc, 19th century), are the symbols of the months and the signs of the zodiac. On the side walls are (left) St Dionysius (Denis) and kings and (right) John the Baptist, St Stephen, St Genevieve and a Pope.

Side Walls

Both sides of Paris' Notre-Dame display the richness of High Gothic form. On the north front (1250-60) Jean de Chelles completed the transept in 1250, with the Portail du Cloître, which led into the former cloister. The doorway in the south transept, the Portail de Saint-Etienne (St Stephen's), was the work of Pierre de Montreuil. The acute-angled pediments over the doorways, reaching almost up to the rose windows, the dissolution of the transept walls into a profusion of stained glass and the bold thrust of the flying buttresses give the side walls of Notre-Dame the typical aspect and the charismatic power of the High Gothic cathedral.

Side Doorways

In the tympanum of the Portail du Cloître (1250) at Paris' Notre-Dame are representations, in the bottom register, of a scene from the childhood of Christ and in the two upper registers of the popular medieval legend of St Théophile (Theophilus): (middle) the saint making a pact with the devil and being saved by the Virgin, and (top) the bishop showing the pact to the people. On the central pier is a 13th century statue of the Virgin (original), and in the rose window (1270) the Virgin is surrounded by Old Testament figures.
To the east of the Portail du Cloitre is the small Porte Rouge (Red Door), the work of Pierre de Montreuil. In the tympanum the Virgin is represented between Louis IX and his wife Marguerite de Provence.
In the tympanum of the Portail de Saint-Etienne are representations of St Stephen preaching and being arrested (bottom), his martyrdom and burial (middle) and his resurrection (top). On the central pier is a figure of the saint.


The five-aisled Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris is 130m/427ft long by 48m/157ft, with vaulting reaching up to a height of 35m/115ft. It can accommodate a congregation of 9,000, 1,500 in the galleries alone. Accordingly the cathedral has frequently been the setting of great official occasions (e.g. Napoleon's coronation as first Emperor of the French). The powerful unity of the interior with its 75 round pillars is impressively enhanced by indirect lighting.
A special feature of the interior is the reworking of the Early Gothic side walls of the nave, which already had a gallery over the arcading, on the model of Saint Denis. The gallery was preserved instead of being replaced by a triforium as in other High Gothic churches. Above this were double pointed windows surmounted by rose windows - a feature borrowed from Chartres.
In the first bay of the nave Viollet-le-Duc had begun, in the course of his restoration work, to change the tripartite division of High Gothic back into the quadripartite division of Early Gothic. Fortunately he did not proceed with this, and it is now possible to recognize, in comparison with his alteration, the greater elegance of the High Gothic solution.
It is also interesting to note the change from the Romanesque acanthus and leaf ornament of the capitals in the choir to the Gothic foliage capitals in the nave.
The famous Cavaillé-Coll organ is one of the largest and most powerful in France, with 8,500 pipes and some 110 stops. Every Sunday evening at 5.45 there are free and well attended organ recitals. High Mass is celebrated daily at 10am.

Rose Windows

Particularly fine is the rose window in the north transept of Paris' Notre-Dame (c. 1255), with 80 Old Testament scenes centered on the Virgin. The large rose window in the south transept depicts Christ surrounded by apostles, martyrs, the wise and foolish virgins and the story of Matthew. On the southeast pier at the crossing is the best known and most revered image of the Virgin in the cathedral - Notre-Dame de Paris, a slender figure of around 1330 which was set up here in 1855. Of the medieval furnishings of the church there remain the choir screens (begun by Pierre de Chelles c. 1300), with 23 stone reliefs (1319-51, by Jehan Ravy and his nephew Jehan de Bouteiller), painted and partly gilded, depicting scenes from the life of Christ up to the Passion. In the southeast choir chapel is the tomb (showing Burgundian influence) of Jean Juvénal des Ursins (d. 1431), who as prévôt des marchands established the freedom of shipping on the Seine and the Marne. Here too is the elaborate monument, in black and white marble, of the Comte d'Harcourt (d. 1718), by J.B. Pigalle. Other notable features of the interior are the fine carved choir-stalls, a Pietà by Nicolas Coustou and the Baroque high altar.


The ascent of the tower of Notre-Dame in Paris (70m/230ft) involves climbing 387 steps, but the view from the top is one of the great experiences of a visit to Paris. Unlike other famous Paris viewpoints (the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré-Coeur, the Tour Maine- Montparnasse), the tower of Notre-Dame offers a close-up view of the historic center of the city, with the Cité, the Hôtel de Ville, the Louvre, the Sorbonne, the Panthéon and the Ile Saint-Louis, as well as panoramic views of the modern city extending as far as the tower blocks of La Défense.
Address: Place du parvis de Notre-Dame, F-75004 Paris, France


In the Treasury in Paris' Notre-Dame (entrance in choir, on right) is a reliquary designed by Viollet-le-Duc (1862) containing one of Christ's nails, a thorn from the crown of thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. The Sainte-Chapelle was originally built by Louis IX to house the crown of thorns. Also on display are valuable manuscripts, precious monstrances, crosses, chalices and Napoleon's coronation robes.
Address: Place du parvis de Notre-Dame, F-75004 Paris, France

Musee de Notre-Dame de Paris

The museum obtains the history of the Cathedral and the life of the Cité.
Address: 10 rue du Cloître Notre-Dame, F-75004 Paris, France
Notre-Dame de Paris - Floor plan map Notre-Dame de Paris Map

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