Napoleon had plans to demolish Norte Dame cathedral shortly after 1804 when he took the royal crown from the hands of Pope Pius VII and crowned himself emperor in the shadow of the great church. The general felt the ediface a monstrosity, built over six centuries at the hands of numerous architects. But author Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) later proclaimed the church a “symphony of stone” and his sentiments won the day. Numerous touches have been added in the nearly two centuries since Hugo’s days, mainly under the direction of 19C genius Eugene Violet le Duc, including the 300-foot-high steeple and the three portals of the entrance (west) facade.
With myriad integrated details inside and out, Notre Dame indeed contains the notes and overall bombast of a great musical work. Entrance to the cathedral is free, although a fee is charged to climb the 230-foot north tower to the belfry and walk among the gargoyles. In the parvis (plaza) in front is Point Zero, a bronze star imbedded in flagstone, from which all distances in France are measured. The site of Notre Dame on Ile de la Cite was also the location for the stronghold of the Parisii, the tribe of boatmen dating from around 300 BC, who were displaced by Julius Caesar and the Romans in 54 BC. In recent years, remnants from the Roman’s 3C city of Lutetia (as they called Paris) were discovered 200 feet below ground in the parvis. The parking lot has become a museum, Crypte Archelologique, just one of the bonus attractions that surround the cathedral. See page 38 of No Worries Paris for more photos and info.