Notre-Dame: France's great cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on a bright afternoon in Spring, panorama image
A view of Notre-Dame from the Seine.

Work to build Notre Dame started under King Louis VII in 1160.

The cathedral, considered by many to be the finest example of French Gothic architecture, took around 100 years to build and has survived the French Revolution and the Nazi occupation.

However, many of its religious artifacts and much of its artwork were ransacked following the founding of the French republic and it was not until Victor Hugo published the Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831 that interest in the location began to swell.

The cathedral’s twin towers were the tallest buildings in Paris, at 69m, until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

The spire, originally completed between 1220 and 1230 was removed in 1786 after becoming weak and twisted by 500 years of winds.

Notre Dame, the most beautiful Cathedral in Paris. View from the river Seine, France
Notre-Dame took around 100 years to build.
Paris, France Notre Dame Cathedral facade of the statue of the Saint. UNESCO world heritage.
Its rose windows date back to the 13th century
Notre Dame, the most beautiful Cathedral in Paris. View from the river Seine, France
The spire was restored in the 18th century but was destroyed in the 2019 fire.

It was restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc during the 19th century who decided to recreate it, making a new version of oak covered with lead.

The entire spire weighed 750 tons and was surrounded by copper statues of the 12 apostles in four groups of three, with a group at each compass point.

At the top of the spire was a cockerel, a symbol of France, containing three relics a tiny piece of the crown of thorns, located in the treasury of the Cathedral; and relics of Denis and Saint Geneveive, patron saints of Paris.

They were placed there in 1935 by the Archibishop Verdier, to protect the congregation from lightning or other harm.

From 1845 for the next 25 years a major restoration project got under way as visitors began to return en masse.

Long exposure night shot of Notre Dame in Paris, France.
The bell towers were once the tallest building in Paris.

Now, around 12m people each year visit the cathedral making it the most popular tourist attraction in France.

In the 1960s a major clean-up operation got under way to remove centuries of soot and grime restoring the original limestone colour.

Some 30 years later a second wave of cleaning got under way with it being completed in 2000.

The cathedral forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site along the banks of the River Seine.

On April 15 2019 a fire started, believed to be linked to restoration work, destroyed the spire and the cathedral roof.