If Quasimodo is one of the most famous characters in French fiction, Notre Dame, where his story is set, is among France’s most popular monuments. Indeed, the Hunchback of Notre Dame certainly strikes a chord with many of us.
Actually, Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris tops the list of France’s popular monuments with over 13 million annual visitors ahead of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, the Louvre museum, the Château de Versaille and the Eiffel tower.
Not only is this because Notre Dame has been part of the Paris cityscape since the High Middle-Ages – indeed the 850th anniversary of the beginning of its construction is being celebrated from December 12th of 2012 to November 24th 2013 – but also because it really captures the imagination.
A World Of Angels And Monsters From Heaven And Elsewhere
If you stroll along the left bank of the river Seine in the Latin Quarter, you will arguably get the most fulfilling sight of the cathedral from its south flank. This is because you will have enough distance to take in one of the world’s most illustrious examples if gothic architecture, peopled with angels, monsters and lifelike statues posted like sentinels or patrolling the rooftops.
A multitude of gargoyles do the job of spurting rain water clear of the façades of the cathedral whereas the other fantastical creatures, known as chimeras, are purely ornamental borne of the minds of men.
The host of figures around the base of the flèche (type of spire) could be characters out of a J.M. Barrie fantasy novel. But in fact they represent the apostles, walking down in groups of three from each of the cardinal points of the flèche base.
Steeped In Religion, History And Fiction
Notre Dame is also where religious and allegorical figures meet fictional and historical representations.
You will find a great statue of Charlemagne on horseback on the square in front of the cathedral to the left looking out.
And if you look carefully along the Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame, you may spy a small statue resembling the bust of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, poking out of the wall of the north transept. Incidentally, this side is where you will enter the cathedral to climb up to the tower of the great bell, known as Emanuel, for an awe-inspiring view over Paris.
With so much fuel for the imagination, no wonder Notre Dame gave the setting for one of Victor Hugo’s most famous master pieces.
Tip For Your Tour
In the busy season as many as 50 000 pilgrims cross the cathedral’s threshold daily. You might like to take some bread to feed the pigeons, it will help you pass the time just in case there is a queue!