One of the must-dos on my list for Paris was visiting the most famous cathedral in the world: the Notre Dame Cathedral. Saturated with history, stunning gothic architecture and ancient stained glass paintings, Notre Dame is everything someone who loves art and history dreams off.
Staying at the Novotel Gare De Lyon next to Paris’s largest train station was a purposefully-chosen idea because we arrived from Lucerne, via Basel by train and wanted to stay near the station so that we could easily go to the hotel with all our luggage, without hiring a car. I definitely recommend the hotel as it is affordable and offers a delicious breakfast. We decided that we would get around Paris on the several tourist buses that we saw frequenting the station. While the tourist hop-on-hop-off buses are touted to be wheelchair-accessible, only one out of five is truly accessible, therefore, as a wheelchair user, I had a big problem getting around the city. So after wasting over an hour waiting for them on our first day in the city, we decided to hire Maxi Taxis (larger taxis) to get around Paris.
On our first full day in the city, we took a cab to the iconic Notre Dame, about 15 minutes away by car from Gare De Lyon. I was surprised to learn that Notre Dame is located on a small island called the Île de la Cité in the middle of River Seine. The reason I was astonished is that there are so many bridges in Paris that it is hard to notice that there is an island within the city.
As a wheelchair user, we were given priority access into the cathedral and guided through the different entrance. Reveling at the beauty of the spectacular architecture and the stained glass windows, I managed to go around most of the church, however, there was an area in the back, not accessible to me, where a breakdown of all the events related to the church was displayed.
Since the cathedral still holds mass, there are candles sold for visitors to pray at the altar. There was something so peaceful about being in a place of prayer that I really can’t put into words.The Notre Dame, with its sculptures and stained glass windows, is predominantly French gothic architecture. It shows the heavy influence of naturalism, unlike that of earlier Romanesque architecture.
In fact, it was among the first buildings in the world to use flying buttresses (arched exterior supports) after the thin walls (popularized in the Gothic style) grew even higher and stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outwards. One of the very first Gothic cathedrals, its construction took place throughout the Gothic period. The building of the cathedral was completed over the course of 200 years; it was started in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII and was completed in 1345. The length of time it took to build is evident through the various styles of architecture that run through the building, lending to its quirky beauty. Now, it’s one of the most prominent cathedrals in France and one of the oldest, too.
Like many notable historical monuments, the Notre Dame has its own share of both celebrated and tragic historical moments that will forever be remembered worldwide. One of the iconic moments that occurred inside was the crowning of Henry VI of England in 1431. Over its vast history, the Cathedral has suffered considerable damage, especially during the French Revolution in 1786, when it was converted into a storage warehouse for food and the heads of many of Notre Dame’s statues were removed. Fortunately, it was sympathetically restored and continued to attract attention from around the world.
The cathedral has also played host to many religious ceremonies. In 1909, Pope Pius X famously blessed Joan of Arc, the brave, young girl who told all she had experienced visions from God. She then went on to assist the French to win many battles against England. However, not everyone was convinced by her religious visions and she was later killed by Burundians who accused her of blasphemy. It was not until 1456 that her name was cleared and she became known as an innocent martyr.
A notable and distinct historical artifact which is very popular today is the famous bell that has been redesigned to ring automatically. Located in the bell tower, the bell can be reached by climbing the 140 steps. Also inside the cathedral, among so many historical artifacts, is the notable 17th-century organ with all of its parts still functional. There are also drawings, plans and engravings which showed the several of the church developments and how the city of Paris was planned.
Perhaps best known for its relation to the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the cathedral’s biggest draw is the French Gothic Architecture that is unrivaled worldwide. The most famous cathedral in the world has free and open access daily.
Surrounding the cathedral are a number of hotels, cafes and shops selling an array of souvenirs and gifts. After checking out the cathedral, we checked some of them out, not to buy souvenirs but to escape some of the humid Parisian summer heat. We then strolled through the Parisian streets in search of Breizh Café, next on my itinerary.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is located at:
6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II
Photos by Hitesh & Diva Shah