Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is a gothic cathedral in Paris’s fourth arrondissement.
Original construction began in 1163, with the first stone supposedly laid in the presence of Pope Alexander III. At this time, it was the project of the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully who built it as a religious focal point in the city dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the original “Lady of Paris” or “Notre Dame de Paris”.
Notre Dame Cathedral has since undergone numerous building and refurbishment campaigns, with several religious, political and royal leaders determined to leave their mark on this impressive building. It was also necessary to rebuild parts of it following the French Revolution, when much of Notre Dame and its religious artifacts were destroyed.
Notre Dame Cathedral is still an operating church, but visitors are also welcome to tour the building and appreciate both its beauty and sheer size. Some of the highlights at Notre Dame include its stained glass windows, gothic architecture and many sculptures.
Free tours are conducted throughout the year, Monday to Friday at 2 and 3pm (except the first Friday of the month and every Friday during Lent) as well as Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm.
The nearby tower outside the cathedral is also worth a visit. Dating back to the 13th century, it houses the 17th Century Emmanuel Bell as well as Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th century chimera and gargoyles. Those feeling particularly fit can climb its 387 steps for magnificent views.
Also recommended is the archeological crypt just to the west of Notre Dame Cathedral and located under the Parvis. This underground crypt was built to protect ancient ruins found in 1965 and can be accessed via a staircase opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, near the Police Headquarters.
Finally, Notre Dame’s Treasury houses some of the relics of the Passion of Christ including the famous Crown of Thorns.