This masterpiece of Gothic architecture towers majestically over the Ile de la Cité with its unmistakable silhouette, as if to remind us that this was once the Catholic heart of Paris.
Prior to the disastrous fire in 2019, its magnificent stained glass windows and intricate structure enchanted 14 million visitors each year, making it one of the capital’s must-see attractions.
In the late afternoon of 15 April 2019, a devastating fire destroyed the roof and spire of Europe’s most important cathedral.
Notre-Dame, the Gothic masterpiece and Unesco World Heritage Site, as well as one of the landmarks of Christianity, was heavily damaged. The fire brigade, after fighting for hours against the devastating force of the fire, managed to save the Cross, the High Altar and some treasures such as the tunic of St. Louis and Christ’s crown of thorns, the one that the Roman soldiers supposedly placed on Jesus’ head before his crucifixion.
Since then, Notre Dame Cathedral has been closed to the public indefinitely.
Notre Dame Cathedral will reopen to visitors in December 2024. After the fire, it took two years just to secure the structure so that restorers could work inside the church without risk. The complete restoration of the cathedral is expected to be completed in 2025.
At present, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is completely closed to the public: visits and religious celebrations are suspended until the end of the work, to allow the building to be secured and stabilised before restoration.
The large square in front of the Cathedral is also not accessible, in order to guarantee the safety of passers-by during the works.
It is possible to see the external structure from afar: the towers and side transepts have been bridged by scaffolding, made necessary by the reconstruction work. Unfortunately, the roof and spire have collapsed, the walls are blackened and many parts have deteriorated.
Although it is not possible to visit the interior of the Cathedral, a virtual reality tour has been devised. You will be able to virtually ‘enter’ Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris thanks to VR visors: the experience is truly immersive and you will feel like you are really inside the cathedral before and after the fire.
You will be able to admire the nave, the gargoyles, the bell towers and the sacristy thanks to real 360° images shot before the 2019 fire. You will also be able to see the cathedral in its current state of reconstruction and stand in the middle of the ruined cathedral, right in the spot where the burning spire fell and crashed into the vault.
The immense Notre-Dame Cathedral, with its imposing figure, dominates the Seine and the Île de la Cité and is a monument of immense historical, artistic and religious value.
Despite being heavily damaged during the Revolution, Notre-Dame still retains its timeless beauty, thanks to its forest of rampant arches, its sublime harmony of forms, symmetrical elements, Gothic statues and superb ornate portals.
The façade of the cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic art, creating a perfect balance between the twin towers, the rose window and the three portals, adorned with rows of saints and the Gallery of Kings, with its 28 statues of the Kings of Judah.
The entrances, superbly sculpted and covered with bas-reliefs, are veritable visual narratives for the people, a sort of Poor Man’s Bible that served to spread the word even to the illiterate. They depicted not only episodes from the Old Testament, the Passion and Death of Christ, but also scenes from the seasons, capital vices, virtues and the lives of the saints.
Around the cathedral, Jean Ravy’s multitude of rampant arches create a petrified forest in perfect Gothic style, while high above, perched in the most inaccessible spots, loom the ghostly gargoyles that form the Chimera gallery. It is a fantastic bestiary that seems straight out of a dark fairy tale: dragons, deformed birds, and terrifying chimeras such as Stryga equipped with wings, horns, a human body and a very long tongue to ward off evil spirits.
If from the outside it is striking for its elaborate complexity, the interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral amazes with the grandeur of the nave, intersected by a stunning transept and medieval rose windows.
The rose windows are one of the many marvels of the cathedral: magnificent on the outside, they provide the greatest magic from the inside thanks to the stained glass windows that create a kaleidoscope of colours turning to blue and violet.
The cathedral treasury houses ancient manuscripts, reliquaries, sacred works including the Sainte-Couronne, thought to be the crown of thorns that would have encircled Christ’s head before his crucifixion: it is only displayed on the first Friday of each month and during Easter festivities.
The side chapels of the cathedral hold a very rich collection of artwork, the history of which begins in 1449, when the goldsmiths’ guild began to donate a tree decorated with coloured drapes and ribbons each year on 1 May as a sign of devotion. Over the centuries, the annual gift called Les Grands Mays was replaced by works and paintings, of which only 13 remain. The cathedral houses no less than 37 works depicting the Virgin and Child, including an ancient wooden sculpture venerated for centuries.
The choir stalls are finely carved and depict scenes from the life of the Virgin: they were commissioned by Louis XIV. Also worth admiring are the statue of Louis XIII and the Pieta by Nicolas Coustou.
The South Tower houses Emmanuel, the cathedral’s great bell, weighing 13 tonnes and enchanting the city with its purest sound: in fact, the alloy of metals used for casting was embellished with the gems and jewels that the women of Paris donated in 1631.
To reach the North Tower you have to climb 422 steps of a narrow spiral staircase: from up there you have an unparalleled view of the city and can see the gargoyles up close.
The cathedral spire, which is less visible, was designed by the architect Viollet-le-Due, who oversaw the restoration work after heavy damage following the Revolution: a cockerel was added to its top in 1936, which holds a fragment of the Holy Crown of Thorns and two relics of St Genovefa and St Dionysius.
From October to June, beautiful concerts and performances with musical accompaniment were held in the cathedral. Admiring the church during the Sunday Gregorian masses was particularly impressive.
Notre-Dame Cathedral is located in the centre of Paris and represents an important piece of French history. In fact, the Cathedral is not only a masterpiece of Gothic art, but also fits into the historical and religious context of the great European cathedrals such as Milan Cathedral or Westminster in London.
Work on its construction began in 1163 and continued until 1334, from the transept side to the façade. Its construction spanned the centuries and was a clear symbol of the growing prestige of Paris during the history of that period.
After being sacked during the Revolution, the publication of Victor Hugo ‘s novel Notre Dame de Paris in 1831 rekindled interest in the cathedral and led the government to decree a total renovation, entrusted to Jean-Baptiste Lassus and Eugene Viollet le Duc.
Notre-Dame Cathedral is located in the Île de la Cité district, in the heart of Paris. It is easily reached by public transport:
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