From the Top of Notre Dame: Panoramic Views of Paris

IMG_4279Bill and I visited one of the world’s landmarks — Notre Dame de Paris — Our Lady of Paris. We stood in line for about 45 minutes to buy tickets. I thought we were paying to go inside; in fact, we were in line to climb to the top.

Imagine my surprise when we were directed to a small slender staircase made of stone. After a few minutes, I could feel the burn in my legs as we moved ever upward. People above us were stopping to catch their breath. A young Chinese couple groaned extravagantly about their exertion to make themselves laugh.

The climb lasted nearly 10 minutes and covered 387 steps. An older couple ahead of us caused us some concern, but they were troupers and kept going.

I also climbed the additional stairs to get to the bell tower.

This photo of Quasimodo was taken by a very tall blond woman from the UK — she offered because I was struggling to take a decent selfie (the space is small, the bell is huge.)

I’m glad I was a complete ignoramus. Oddly, it made the ascent easier because I didn’t know what was ahead. But at the top! You get to view the gargoyles and chimeras up close, and the glorious city of Paris stretches out forever.
This isn’t my photo (look at those gorgeous clear skies!) but I needed to show the function of the gargoyles. All other photos are mine.

Gargoyles are hollow and serve to direct rainwater away from a building to prevent damage to the masonry and mortar.

These are chimeras, a decorative part of Gothic architecture; superstition says they protect the building from evil spirits. I guess a cathedral full of praying priests isn’t enough…
Gargoyles in foreground, and gorgeous Paris beyond

I’ve always liked the oddness of gargoyles and chimeras, but it’s rare to get a close-up. Some are fierce-looking; others are simply strange creatures resting their chins on their hands.

The Seine and bridges seen from the top of Notre Dame
The Eiffel Tower in the distance, on left

Just when I thought Paris couldn’t get any more beautiful, these views of the city blew me away. Because it was cloudy and sometimes raining, the quality of the light on the buildings seemed particularly lovely.

The main worship area of Notre Dame

It’s impossible to capture the immensity of the interior. It goes on and on in many directions. Outside the view of the above photo are many naves, multiple smaller chapels, confessionals, and places to pray.

Because they only allow groups of about 15 at a time to go up those stairs, we felt as though we had plenty of room and space to enjoy looking out at the cityscapes when we were at the top of Notre Dame.

But inside? Throngs of people — so many it felt impossible to catch my breath. Signs commanded “Silence in the Church” but no one seemed to care. Every ten minutes or so, a recording would play over loudspeakers that began with the “sh-sh-sh-sh” sound and then “silence in the church” would be repeated in French, Spanish, Mandarin, English and other languages.

Construction of Notre Dame began in 1163 and wasn’t completed until 1345, 182 years later. The people who originally conceived of the cathedral didn’t see the final building. I imagined the thousands of workers and craftspeople who worked their whole lives on Notre Dame and yet never saw it completed.

As I toured the cathedral and enjoyed the views, I kept thinking about the actual execution of ideas — how long it takes, what is required, the day-to-day process of moving from the original thought to the final product. I felt overwhelmed by the majesty and scale of it, as if I was drowning in sensations.

And I thought of the millions of people who had been coming to this cathedral for hundreds and hundreds of years. You could see the end results — smooth indentions had been worn into the stone steps by their feet.

5 thoughts on “From the Top of Notre Dame: Panoramic Views of Paris

  1. The gargoyles and chimeras are wonderful, Bart! And the views! I am so enjoying soaking them all up. And it is sweet to see this note of yours to Karen, knowing you have been (were) working all day today and about to head out in the rain to buy food, even though by now you are likely sleeping or maybe reading in bed. 🙂


  2. OK, now I’m envious. I’m glad you are loving Paris, I hope to visit one day. Please keep up with the posts and photos, I love reading them. And by the way, you do not look like Quasimodo, rather the handsome Phoebus!


    1. You’ve made my day, Karen. It’s about 5 PM here on Friday and I’ve been working since I woke up this morning. Bill was up early to catch his flight back to California. I need to grocery shop. The rains and wind were heavy earlier but have slacked off so I can make my way with an umbrella and not get soaked.


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