The main feeling you get from visiting Notre-Dame Cathedral (Notre-Dame de Paris) is “déjà vu”. Everyone who has been to Paris, feels obligated to get a picture with lancet arches, Gothic steeples, “rose” windows backgrounds or take a picture of himself at the background of H-shaped facade, where the author of the novel “Notre Dame” saw the first letter of his name – Hugo.
Notre Dame de Paris – view from the Seine river
By the beginning of new millennium the Cathedral, blackened by urban smog, has been thoroughly cleaned, and the fronts still look unusually white. Despite of the crowds of tourists Notre Dame is a current cathedral, on Sundays masses take place (four in the morning and one in the evening), and sometimes magnificent wedding ceremonies are arranged here.
The great French novelist Victor Hugo was inspired by the Notre Dame Cathedral
Yet in the middle of IVth century early basilica was situated here and later on a Romanesque church appeared. In 1163 Bishop Maurice de Sully founded a new cathedral on its place which construction took 182 years. Finally completed in 1345, Notre Dame could accommodate nine thousand people – thus it has always been the largest temple in Europe of early Gothic period.
The Cathedral has been constantly reinforced and rebuilt from the very beginning. And it suffered most during the revolution when the Jacobins decapitated 28 biblical kings on the front, taking them as the French kings by mistake. Gothic heads were discovered in 1977 during the excavations (they can be seen now at the National Museum of the Middle Ages (Musée du Moyen Âge)), and those statues that can bee seen in the west facade today is the result of the restoration of 1850s conducted by the famous architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, an outstanding visionary who made most French cathedrals and churches look more “medieval” than they actually did in the Middle Ages. In addition to the statues of the kings the Cathedral owes Viollet-le-Duc the Gothic spire and the gallery of chimeras (they can be seen better from the top of the narrow and steep stairs leading to the 69-meter-high tower of the Cathedral).
One of the most famous and photographed “rose” windows in Paris
The Cathedral necessarily needs to be entered. Remember Henri de Navarre who has been marrying Marguerite de Valois standing outside the door – as the Huguenots were not allowed to enter the Catholic Church – and who then said: “Paris is well worth a mass” (“Paris vaut bien une messe”). This is the traditional route of the inspection: enter from the right, leave to the left, put your first glance to the middle of the central nave, and then forward to the altar and round in a clockwise, looking in the chapel for anything interesting. Do not forget to look back at the glowing 10-meter-high Gothic rose at the altar – the stained glass you have noticed on the facade. You don’t have to buy a ticket to get to the treasury. You don’t need to waste your time exploring the stained glass as well – in half an hour you will see the stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle.
… and inside. It’s worth visiting Sainte-Chapelle in a summer day! You’ll be impressed by stained-glass windows and play of light.
On the square in front of Notre Dame you can take a look at km 0 (“Kilometre Zero”), from which all distances in France are measured, and there you will find the entrance to La Crypte Archéologique – Archaeological Museum, which exhibition gives you an idea of what Île de la Cité looked like in a Gallo-Roman Era.
Kilometre Zero (‘lucky shot’ because anybody always stands on it)
This archaeological museum reserves the excavated ruins of the 2000 year old Roman town, Lutetia
Having circled the Cathedral along the embankment, you can see its side elevation, which is often considered to be more beautiful than even the portals of the main square. The Church parts face to the square – buttresses and flying buttresses are taken out to free the space under the arches in 130×48 meters, unavailable in a medieval town. Back then the side elevation could hardly be examined as well. Today the impression you get looking at all these great constructions is totally different: prefect Georges Eugène Haussmann demolished almost the entire medieval Île de la Cité and removed all the parks and squares. The only thing left was a quarter Ancien Cloître (quartier de l’Ancien Cloître) to the opposite side of the embankment of the Cathedral. In the XIIth century 40-year-old priest and philosopher Pierre Abélard, who fell in love with 17-year-old Héloïse, was a teacher here in school at Notre Dame. The love affair of Abélard and Héloïse – ended in the reunion of two lovers at Père Lachaise – is one of the most touching French histories. The accepted view is that Héloïse’s relatives believed Abélard abandoned Héloïse, and, in their anger, wreaked vengeance upon Abélard by having him attacked while asleep and castrated.
During the Second Empire the square behind the apse of Notre-Dame near the pont Saint-Louis was one of the most fashionable places in Paris. Townspeople used to come to the local morgue to stare at the bodies of people slaughtered in the market of Les Halles and drowned in the Seine.
The underground Memorial to victims of deportation (Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation) was laid here in Charles de Gaulle times: to 200 thousand Frenchmen, issued to Germans by the Vichy government. This monument like most memorials of that time is has the spirit of the intolerable hypocrisy. Much more touching are the boards you can see on the buildings: “Among 500 children captured by the Germans in this area the majority was from this school”.
Holocaust Memorial in Paris. It’s dedicated to “French citizens” deported by the Nazis during World War II and who never returned back.
The oldest hospital in Paris Hotel-Dieu – which is situated diagonally across Notre-Dame – was last rebuilt is Ossmanne times. From the reception through the glass wall you will see a monumental courtyard stretching down to the very Seine. This magnificent spectacle has little interest for patients awaiting for a doctor here, but will definitely give you pleasure.
To the right of the Hotel-Dieu you will find an old flower market standing there for nearly a century. Pass Commissariat de police by and go forward to Boulevard du Palais or the Palace. Behind the numerous gates of Commissariat during the dinner time young officers of both sexes are swarming like students during the school break. From the waterfront side there is a memorial plaque with the words of a Paris liberation hero Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc written on it: “Hold on, here we go” addressed to the Paris police. The letter was dropped from the aircraft, and the policemen defending the Commissioner from the Germans of Dietrich von Choltitz for three days, were cheered up. No one blamed them for not becoming partisans: the occupation was important, but the thief still has to be in a prison.
Palais de Jusice is built on the site of the former royal palace of Saint Louis, of which the Sainte Chapelle remains
Palace of Justice (Palais de Justice) was built in XIXth century on the place of the old royal palace. The only part of the old palace, which ottoman planners saved and incorporated into the complex of the Palace of Justice – is the Holy Chapel (Sainte-Chapelle) – a Flamboyant Gothic masterpiece. It was built in 1241-1248 to house precious relics of Christ that had been in the possession of Louis IX (Saint Louis). When you see this narrow and humble two-story church it’s hard to imagine how magnificent the inside can be. It’s not that easy to get in: before you enter the courthouse you have to walk through a frame and turn your pockets out. This is the first queue. Then following the signs across the yard you’ll find the booking office and the second queue too. On the ground floor there is a beautiful chapel of the Virgin Mary, but long staying here doesn’t worth it. You’d better climb up the steep spiral staircase to the personal chapel of the king. It’s a tall vaulted hall consisting, as it seems, of nothing but red, blue and yellow stained glass windows (two-thirds of which are original). It would be a big fault to ignore this sight, as to come here on a cloudy day. It’s crowded in the Holy Chapel, but you can always find a place on the bench by the wall to watch the stained glass more careful, especially if you bring lorgnette with you.
The walls of the oldest prison in Paris – La Conciergerie – adjoin the Palace of Justice from the north. On one of its towers you can find the first clocks in the city (over six hundred years old) still working though. Here you should definitely visit a magnificent Gothic hall (one of the columns has a watermark of 1910), kitchen striking with its size, and cells – poor and rich, with and without the conveniences. La Conciergerie is famous for its “guests”: in the cell, where Marie Antoinette spent 76 days awaiting for execution, the installation in the spirit of a wax museum is arranged. The room of a hateful Austrian is divided on two parts with a curtain, behind which the jailers are on duty day and night. “And nearby were Danton and Robespierre!” – a guard will say with his pleasure: the judges laid down under the knife after there victims.
To say the truth, there’s nothing special inside the jail, but the outside view is impressive and a little bit sinister
A poet Andre Chenier, Charlotte Corday stabbed Marat, the chemist Lavoisier, anarchist Ravachol, “Jacks the Ripper” of all stripes and Napoleonic sergeant Corsican Giuseppe Feshi who wanted to kill Louis Philippe, all of them were waiting for the guillotine in La Conciergerie. There is known a Corsican who prepared a rough wooden bench in his room on the Boulevard du Temple, on which he fixed 24 barrel, each charged with 6 bullets and sat by the window waiting for the king. July 28, 1835 his primitive machine gun killed 19 people on the spot and injured dozens of people in the royal cortege, but Louis Philippe was not injured. Feshi visited the “dressing-room”, reproduced in the prison museum, where Monsieur de Paris, the city’s famous executioner Sanson, ripped the shirt of a sentenced prisoner and shaved his hair on the head, so the guillotine had not met the slightest resistance.
Behind the Palace of Justice there is a small square – The Place Dauphine – actually triangular in shape, but is the most harmonious in the city. Not all the houses, which were built here in XVIIth century, destroyed by prefect Ossman. Particularly, two pavilions in its narrowest part have left safe. In one of them an actress Simone Signoret lived, and Simenon’s hero Jules Maigret (titled Commissaire) who worked on 36 Quai des Orfèvres liked to sit in local restaurants.
The Place Dauphine is situated behind the Palace of Justice. Look at its triangular shape
The Pont Neuf, recently renovated, which is situated behind the square was built four hundred years ago in Henry IV times. Today it is the oldest bridge in Paris, and back then it was the first bridge without shops and houses on it. The Pont Neuf connects the western arrow of Cité with two banks of the Seine and is considered to be one of the symbols of the city. It’s treasured a lot: the artist Christo was once allowed to wrap this bridge, but Leos Carax couldn’t get from City Council the authorization for filming “The Lovers on the Bridge” (“Les Amants du Pont-Neuf”) here,so the director had to create his own the Pont Neuf far away, in the south of France.
The Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge of Paris. Its novelty is concluded in fact that it was the first bridge without houses built on the borders.
The statue of Henry IV on the Pont Neuf is a copy of the original (1818), like many other statues of kings adorned the Paris area, was melted during the revolution. A small staircase behind it leads to the Square du Vert-Galant.
Square du Vert-Galant
The epithet in the title “gallant” refers to Henry known for his amorous adventures. In summer Parisians in a good shape sunbathe here, in the evening loving couples are coming down to the Square, during the day Japanese tourists are waiting for water taxi.
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