‘I have made it a ritual to always light a candle when I visit’
If you twisted my arm and forced me to pick just one favourite monument in Paris, I would reluctantly say (reluctantly because who in their right mind could only pick one?) that it would have to be the Notre Dame Cathedral. Why Notre Dame? Well, I have visited it on every one of my trips to Paris and will most likely visit it every time I return because of the way it makes me feel. Not forgetting the fact that construction started in 1163 and took nearly 200 years to complete, which is astounding in itself, the connection I have to Notre Dame is inexplicable except to say that it moves me. When I enter through it’s incredibly ornate, massive doors, a sense of calm, peace and awe washes over me in a way that is hard to imagine, unless you have felt it for yourself. The hushed whispers of tourists and the dim lighting from its numerous medieval chandeliers only add to the ambience and solemn atmosphere inside. Taking a moment to appreciate your surroundings whilst inhaling the faint smells of wood and candle wax is extremely meditative. It is thoroughly soothing, peaceful and refreshing.
Measuring in at 130m in length, 48m in width and at 35m tall, Notre Dame is an impressive structure to say the least. It would be better described as a French Gothic masterpiece. I can’t help but think of what life must have been like for the craftsmen and labourers who unknowingly contributed to such an iconic cathedral. It is completely overwhelming to take in during one visit and I feel compelled to return again and again to discover something new each time.
On my last visit, I spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon there and managed to attend the International Service (Sundays at 11:30am). It was an incredible experience to say the least. With bells ringing on arrival, followed by dramatic organ music and the angelic, operatic voices of the choir singers all set against the beauty of its stained-glass windows, it seemed more like an elaborate opera performance rather than a weekly church service. It was truly amazing.
Inside the church itself, you can enter The Treasury, where you will see sacred vases, ornaments and liturgical books amongst other relics. Unsurprisingly, Notre Dame’s most priceless piece by far, is the Crown of Thorns. Funnily enough, it’s not found in The Treasury but right at the back of the cathedral, behind the alter, contained in a blood red glass display. Keep your eyes open because I walked right past it twice and had to ask for help before locating it!
If you have the energy and aren’t afraid of heights or claustrophobic, then climbing to the top of the towers is a must. Be warned, there are 387 steps up a strictly one-way only, narrow staircase but the view is spectacular. Make sure you reserve your timeslot before you intend to climb up; otherwise, quite frankly, don’t bother showing up. I used an app called ‘Duck the Line’ and it was such a time saver. Reservation access through the app is available from 7:30am on the day you wish to climb the tower and it will also notify you when it is your turn to ascend. When the app alerts you, you simply present your phone to the Notre Dame official to gain entry. I only had to wait five minutes for access! This allows you to avoid waiting in a long queue while you explore the outside of the cathedral. Brilliant! I actually think the view here is the best view of Paris. Yes, even better than the view from the Eiffel Tower. After all, what is the view of Paris without the Eiffel Tower in it? You can also get up close to one of the tower’s massive bells – don’t worry, this one doesn’t toll so your ears are safe!
Don’t forget to walk around the back and have a look at the cathedral from a different perspective, giving you a completely different view. There is a small garden area where you can sit and enjoy the magnificent buttresses and carved gargoyle drain spouts – what a fabulous way to protect the building from water damage. The rainwater literally comes out of the gargoyle’s mouths away from the building! Speaking of gargoyles, the statues at the top of the Notre Dame are not gargoyles, they are chimeras. The gargoyles serve a functional purpose whilst the chimeras are purely decorative. My favourite is the famous Stryga.
If you haven’t had your fill yet, at the end of the square in front of Notre Dame, you will find the Archaeological Crypt. Here, you can walk amongst ancient, medieval ruins that were found under Notre Dame during renovations – an eerie time capsule that gives you a glimpse into some fascinating urban and architectural development.
After all of that, before you say au revoir, make sure you locate Point Zéro in the square just outside the cathedral doors – it is officially the very centre of Paris itself! Place your foot on it and take a touristy photo or put a coin on it and make a wish – or both!
I bet you can’t guess what I wished for!
Bisous de Paris 💋