Notre-Dame de Paris dates back to the 13th century and is one of the masterpieces of Gothic art in Europe. The Cathedral's stainglasses and the huge interior are really stunning artistic experiences of mystical dimension. Located on the Cité island and surrounded by the Seine river, Notre-Dame is a flagship in the Parisian landscape and provides a magnificent overview of the city from the top of its two towers.
The site of Notre-Dame is the cradle of Paris and had been the religious center of the city. The Celts had their sacred ground here, the Romans had built a temple to worship Jupiter. A Christian basilica was built in the 6th century and the last religious structure before the Notre-Dame construction started was a Romanesque church.
Bishop Maurice de Sully began the construction in 1163. The Cathedral was to be built in the new gothic style and had to reflect Paris's status as the capital of the Kingdom France. It was the first cathedral built on a monumental scale and became the prototype for future cathedrals in France, like the cathedrals of Amiens, Chartres or Rheims, just to name the most famous.
It took until 1345 before the cathedral was completed, partly because the design was enlarged during construction. The result is an overwhelming building, 130m long with two 69 meters tall towers. The spire, which reaches 90m, was added in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. The Notre-Dame has several large rose windows, the northern 13th century window is the most impressive. It is 21 meters high.
The spectacular eastern buttresses are 15m wide. The west side features 3 wide portals, the gallery of Kings and the famous gargoyles.
Excavations under the parvis have revealed traces of Notre-Dame's history from Gallo-Roman times to the 19th century. Vestiges of Roman ramparts, rooms heated by hypocaust (an ancient system with underground furnaces and tile flues), medieval cellars, and the foundations of a foundling hospital are displayed, as are several fascinating photographs of the surrounding neighborhood before Baron Haussmann's renovations.
Starting in 1991, a 10 year program of general maintenance and restoration was initiated. While work continues, sections of the structure are likely to be shrouded by scaffolds.