French Language Blog

A Trip to Paris: Visiting the French Capital’s Most Famous Attractions (Part 2) Posted by on Oct 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

In the last post, we looked at two of the most famous tourist attractions in Paris: La Tour Eiffel and l’Arc de Triomphe.  Today, we will continue our journey through the French capital by focusing on another tourist site that is sure to help you develop a greater appreciation of French history and architecture. Bienvenue à la Cathédrale Notre-Dame (Welcome to Notre-Dame Cathedral).

Notre-Dame de Paris

Située en plein cœur de Paris (in the heart of Paris), Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) is a magnificent cathedral built between the 13th and 15th centuries and located on l’île de la Cité, a small island in the middle of the Seine river. Incidentally, Paris itself was founded on the island au temps des Romains (during Roman times) and was known as Lutèce. Notre-Dame is France’s most famous religious site and is known throughout the world as one of the finest and most well-preserved examples of Gothic architecture. The cathedral also happens to be the setting of the book Notre-Dame de Paris written by revered French auteur (author) Victor Hugo in which Quasimodo, a hunchback living in the cathedral, tombe amoureux de la belle Esmeralda, une danseuse gitane (falls in love with the beautiful Esmeralda, a gypsy dancer). I won’t divulge any more details about the story but it is one of the great French classics.

Even if you aren’t interested in history or in medieval architecture, Notre-Dame is definitely worth a visit. You can pay to climb the massive bell towers where you will be rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of Paris. Feel free to roam around les jardins (the gardens) surrounding the cathedral and pay close attention to les gargouilles (the gargoyles) along the upper walls. Each sculpture has distinct features that set it apart from the others. Many gargoyles served a two-fold purpose: to ward off evil spirits that got too close to the church, and to act as water spouts to prevent rainwater from running down its walls.

When you decide to visit the inside of the cathedral, you may choose a visite guidée (guided visit) or a visite libre (free/open visit). Admire the handiwork of medieval stone cutters and architects who never had access to the machines and computers we take for granted today. Equally impressive are the two massive rosaces (rosettes) in the transept made of hundreds of tiny pieces of stained glass, as well as Le Grand Orgue (The Great Organ), one of the world’s largest musical instruments.

Notre-Dame de Paris est un des trésors de la France (is one of France’s treasures), so make sure you seek it out if you ever visit the capital and experience first-hand one of the paragons of the golden age of European architecture.

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