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Notre-Dame de Paris is located in the middle of the city, on the Île de la Cité. As many as 14 million people step across the threshold every year to admire the cathedral from within. Those who brave the 387 steps to the top of the south tower are treated to stunning views of the city and the vast Seine, and come eye to eye with the famous gargoyles.
Notre-Dame de Paris means Our Lady of Paris. The construction of this Gothic building began in 1163. It wasn’t until the early 14th century, however, that this impressive lady was largely completed. In 1792, during the French Revolution, the cathedral was stormed and looted, and many sculptures and paintings were lost. Notre-Dame was comprehensively renovated under the direction of architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc at the beginning of the 19th century.
Notre-Dame houses many treasures. Most striking are perhaps the colourful window rosettes from the 13th century. The largest one is in the south façade: this immense window shows various scenes from the Old and New Testaments in 4 circles. 3 relics associated with Jesus are also kept in the cathedral: a piece of the true cross, the crown of thorns, and one of the holy nails.
Many old buildings have a story, myth or legend, and almost everyone knows the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The tale comes from the eponymous book (called simply Notre-Dame de Paris in French) written in 1831 by Victor Hugo. It tells of the hunchback bell-ringer Quasimodo who lives high up in the towers of Notre-Dame and falls in love with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda. His love remains unrequited. The story has been adapted for the big screen several times and Disney’s 1996 cartoon version brought it to an audience of all ages.
“In many versions, Quasimodo and Esmeralda kiss. This doesn’t happen in Hugo's book.”
The gargoyles on the façade were placed at the end of the gutters to drain the rainwater so that it wouldn’t run down the walls of the cathedral. Other residents of the tower include the funny statues (drôleries) of the Galerie des Chimères. These monstrous caricatures were intended to scare off demons: seated on the galleries around the towers they watch over Paris day and night. Their creators used their imagination well for these half human, half animal statues – elements such as beaks, snake tails and eagle wings give them an often terrifying look.