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Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral

Built during the Middle Ages, Notre-Dame de Paris (‘Our Lady of Paris’) is a Gothic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in the fourth arrondissement of Paris, with its main entrance to the west. It is one of the most famous monuments in Paris.



The western façade of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Notre-Dame de Paris is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world. It was restored and saved from destruction by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, one of the most famous French architects.

The term “Notre Dame” means “Our Lady” in French, and is frequently used to name Catholic churches in Francophone countries. This is to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary.

Notre-Dame de Paris was one of the first Gothic cathedrals, and its construction spanned the Gothic period. Its sculptures and stained-glass windows show the heavy influence of naturalism, unlike the Romanesque architecture.

Notre-Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress (arched exterior supports). The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave. After the construction began and the thinner walls (popularized in the Gothic style) grew ever higher, stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral’s architects built supports around the outside walls, and later additions continued as such.

Notre-Dame de Paris : flying buttress.

The cathedral suffered desecration during the radical phase of the French Revolution, in the 1790s, when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. During the 19th century, an extensive restoration project was completed, returning the cathedral to its previous state.


In 1160, because the church in Paris had become the “parish church of the kings of Europe”, Bishop Maurice de Sully deemed the previous Parisian cathedral, St Stephen’s (which had been built in the 4th century) unworthy of its lofty role, and had it demolished shortly after he assumed the title of Bishop of Paris. According to a legend, de Sully had a vision of a glorious new cathedral for Paris, and sketched it in the dirt outside of the original church. To begin the construction, the bishop had several houses demolished and had a new road built in order to transport materials for the rest of the cathedral.

Construction began in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII, and opinion differs as to whether Maurice de Sully or Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone of the cathedral. However, both were at the ceremony in question. Bishop de Sully went on to devote most of his life and wealth to the cathedral’s construction.

Construction of the west front, with its distinctive two towers, began about the year 1200, before the nave had been completed, contrary to normal construction practice. Over the construction period, numerous architects worked on the site, as is evidenced by the differing styles at different heights of the west front and towers. Between 1210 and 1220, the fourth architect oversaw the construction of the level with the rose window and the great halls beneath the towers. The towers were completed around 1245, and the cathedral was completed around 1345.

Timeline of construction

  • 1160 Maurice de Sully (named Bishop of Paris) orders to demolish the original cathedral.
  • 1163 Cornerstone laid for Notre-Dame de Paris — construction begins.
  • 1182 Apse and choir completed.
  • 1196 Nave completed. Bishop de Sully dies.
  • 1200 Work begins on western façade.
  • 1225 Western façade completed.
  • 1250 Western towers and north rose window completed.
  • 1260s Transepts changed to the Gothic style by Jean de Chelles then Peter of Montereau
  • 1250–1345 Remaining elements completed

The organ

Though several organs were installed in the cathedral over time, the earliest ones were inadequate for the building. The first noteworthy organ was finished in the 1700s by the noted builder François-Henri Clicquot. Some of Clicquot’s original pipework in the pedal division continues to sound from the organ today. The organ was almost completely rebuilt and expanded in the 19th century by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.

The position of titular organist at Notre-Dame is considered to be one of the most prestigious organist posts in France, along with the post of Saint Sulpice in Paris, Cavaillé-Coll’s largest instrument.

The organ has 7,800 pipes, with 900 classified as historical. The organ has 109 stops, five 56-key manuals and a 32-key pedalboard. In December 1992, work was completed on the organ that fully computerized the organ under 3 LANs (Local Area Networks).

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