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Notre Dame, a Parisian sanctuary

Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral.
Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral.

The city of Paris is full of iconic buildings, from the Eiffel Tower to the Arch de Triumph. One of the best known buildings is Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris). The massive gray structure stands on the banks of the Seine River as it winds its way around the small island, Île de la Citè. The cobbled streets lead up the the cathedral, one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. 

Notre Dame at night.

The plot of land where Notre Dame would eventually be built had long been a place of sacred worship. When the area was part of the vast Roman Empire, the Temple of Jupiter sat there. Later on, as Christianity grew, churches took the place of the pagan temple. By the mid-1100s, Paris was becoming a booming center of politics, learning and art. The newly elected bishop felt that the existing cathedral was not nearly grand enough to be the center of French Catholicism. In 1160, the old cathedral was demolished and plans began for a new cathedral that would rival all others. Three years later, the construction began. Due to the massive scale, the construction took almost two hundred years, being completed in 1345. During the process many architects worked on the building and that is evident from the various levels of architectural design. The majority of the design echoed the influence of Gothic architecture: the flying buttresses, pointed arches and high vaults.
Though pictures are often worth a thousand words, there is no comparison between seeing the massive cathedral in person. The famed double towers rise high above the square in front of the building. The gallery, with its delicate arches captures the light. As you make your way to the back of the building, the many legs of the flying buttresses can be seen and the rather simplistic front is completed transformed into an ornate back. The detail on the outer walls is amazing, it seems as if the people carved into the stone could leap off their pedestals. Gargoyles jut out from above, acting as waterspouts when the rains come. Chimeras, though mistakenly referred to as gargoyles, watch over the city landscape from the gallery. The inside of the cathedral is just as ornate and impressive. The long aisles on either side lead to many smaller chapels. The stained glass windows bring a splash of color to the gray edifice, especially the stunning Rose Windows. 
A tour of the cathedral is self guided and that allows you the freedom to explore what you want. You can visit ever nook or simply find a seat to enjoy the beauty of the interior or exterior. For those who enjoy stairs, and there are a lot of them, climb the 387 steps to the top of the South Tower. Though it is not for the faint of heart and you will most likely need to take a minute to catch your breath, the view is well worth it. So worth it, that you will not mind having your breath taken away again so quickly. Walking along the arched gallery, the city spreads out before you. You come face to face with the monstrous chimera, as they lean over to watch the people below. Within the towers, the massive bells of Notre Dame are housed. The oldest, Emmanuel, was cast in 1631 and weighs 28,000 pounds. The final part of the climb takes you to the top of the cathedral, perched on top of the South Tower. Though your legs may be aching, you will not soon forget the experience. 
Though a full day of touring the cathedral is probably more than enough, be sure to check and see if there are any performances going on at the cathedral at night, from organ recitals to choral performances. 

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