Architecture

Facts about Notre-Dame

18 Notre-Dame facts

Our Lady of Paris

The beautiful Gothic cathedral, dating back to the 13th century, is best known for its unique façade and grandiose rosettes, causing sun rays to create an unforgettable and unique atmosphere. The cathedral is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, with 14 million visitors annually. However, since the day of the tragic fire, it has remained closed until further notice. According to the announcement, it may not open until 2024 at the earliest.

1
A Gallio-Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter is said to have stood on the cathedral's site in pre-Christian times.
This supposition is confirmed by the discovery of a Roman column called Pilier des Nautes (Pillar of the Boatmen) dating by a dedication to the reign of Tiberius Caesar Augustus. The discovery was made on March 6, 1710, during the construction of an underground crypt.
2
In the 4th or 5th century, the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne was built just in front of the present facade of Notre-Dame.
It was the wealthiest and most impressive church in early medieval France. The church was rebuilt many times. Traces of the foundations are preserved beneath the square of the Notre-Dame and under its frontal walls. Unfortunately, the Saint-Étienne temple was destroyed around 1163 when the construction of the Notre-Dame de Paris began.
3
It was built on the Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine River.
It is one of the most visited sites in Paris. It covers 22 hectares and can be accessed by eight bridges.
4
Construction of the Notre-Dame de Paris began in 1163.
The exact date marking the beginning of construction is not known. According to Le Memoriale historiarum, a chronicle by Jean de Saint-Victor, work on the cathedral began between March 24 and April 25. The cornerstone was laid in the presence of Pope Alexander III and French King Louis VII the Young.
5
The towers were the last sizable element of the cathedral to be built. They were not built simultaneously; construction of the southern tower began first.
It was built between 1220 and 1240 and is slightly smaller than the northern tower, built between 1235 and 1250. However, both are 69 meters high and were the tallest structures in Paris until the Eiffel Tower.
6
The cathedral took 182 years to build, which influenced its shape. Its construction is the product of changing visions and developments in construction techniques rather than a specific architectural plan by a single author.
The work was commissioned in 1160 by Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris. The structure was built in four phases, and the work was not completed until 1345.
7
Notre-Dame is known for its three rosettes.
They are located on the western, northern, and southern walls. The first one was created in 1225 and is located on the facade of the building. The northern one was created around 1250, and the southern one ten years later. Unfortunately, the stained glass windows in the oldest rosettes have not survived, undergoing restoration and replacement in the 19th century.
8
The southern rosette also suffered much damage - only some of the stained glass originates back to the Middle Ages. French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc restored the rest in 1861.
The first damage to the rosette occurred in 1543 when it suffered from the subsidence of the building's walls. This damage was not repaired until the 1820s. More damage came during the French Revolution of 1830 when a mob knocked out many of the stained glass windows and burned the archbishop's residence adjacent to the cathedral.
9
The cathedral has ten bells, or more precisely, on its towers.
Several smaller ones were still on the spire, which collapsed during the 2019 fire. Until 2012, the building contained four bells cast in 1856, in addition to the largest, Emmanuel. After 2012, the four bells were replaced with new ones, and five more were added. Only Emmanuel survived.
10
The oldest and largest cathedral bell is Emmanuel, cast in 1686.
It has been considered one of Europe's finest church bells and, since 1944, a national historic landmark. It weighs about 13 tons, has a diameter of 2.61 meters, and is hung from the southern tower. It rings only on special occasions, like the liberation of France in 1944 and significant holidays.
11
The cathedral's pipe organ was built in 1403 but has not survived to the present day. Only 12 pipes and a small part of the wooden structure remain. The creator of the original pipe organs was Frédéric Schambantz.
It was replaced in 1733 with a new one, built by François Thierry - a member of a famous French family of organ builders. The new organ has been maintained and rebuilt to the present day. The last major renovation was carried out in 1992, during which it was equipped with an automated computer-controlled mechanism.
12
Facing the main square of the Notre-Dame is the zero kilometer - the point from which distances are measured on maps and signposts.
The Paris one is made of bronze and has an octagonal shape with an engraved compass rose. The site was chosen by King Louis XV in 1769 and marked with a milestone on October 10, 1786. Then, on October 10, 1924, it appeared in a new guise, precisely 138 years later. According to legend, anyone who stands on it will return to Paris again someday.
13
Notre-Dame has had two spires in its history.
The first was erected in the 13th century and towered over Paris until the late 18th century. Another was built in the 19th century and collapsed during the Notre-Dame fire in April 2019.
14
The first spire was erected between 1220 and 1230, resting on the transept structure and rising 78 meters from the floor.
The spire served as a bell tower. There was a cross with relics hidden inside on top of the spire. In 1606, the cross fell under strong winds and material consumption. The spire gradually disintegrated in the following years, bitten by the teeth of time. Each year, it posed an increasing threat, so the decision was made to dismantle it. The dismantling of the first spire was carried out between 1786 and 1792.
15
Upon the 800th anniversary of the cathedral's construction, its facade was cleaned. André Malraux, France's Minister of Culture, ordered a thorough restoration of the walls, which had turned black from dirt and soot over the past centuries.
Once the work was completed, the cathedral regained its white-red color. However, more restoration work was carried out between 1991 and 2000.
16
On April 15, 2019, Notre-Dame de Paris went up in flames. The fire lasted fifteen hours.
The fire broke out in the attic at 6:18 pm when the alarm system went off. Unfortunately, the system was not designed to notify the fire department, and they arrived at the fire scene at 6:51 pm. More than 400 firefighters were deployed to fight the blaze in the attic, while inside the cathedral, police and city workers hurriedly removed numerous pieces of art.
17
The cathedral is expected to be rebuilt by 2024, but it could take more than 20 years to restore the structure entirely. The destruction, while extensive, did not significantly affect the interior of the building.
⅔ of the roof surface was destroyed. A spire collapsed into the building, its fragments piercing the ceiling and falling onto the marble floor of the transept. Most of the artworks and relics were not at all threatened by the fire, and only some sculptures and paintings suffered smoke staining. Three stained-glass rosettes also survived, suffering minimal damage.
18
Most coronations of French kings were held in Reims. Only two - Henry VI and Napoleon Bonaparte - were crowned at Notre-Dame de Paris.
The coronation of English King Henry VI Lancaster as King of France at Notre Dame de Paris took place on December 16, 1431. Napoleon's coronation as Emperor of France took place on December 2, 1804.

Related content