One of the masterpieces of the Gothic age, the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame rears up from the Île de la Cité’s southeast corner like a ship moored by huge flying buttresses. It was among the first of the great Gothic cathedrals built in northern France and one of the most ambitious, its nave reaching an unprecedented 33m.
Built on the site of the old Merovingian cathedral of Saint-Étienne, Notre-Dame was begun in 1160 under the auspices of Bishop de Sully and completed around 1345. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it fell into decline, suffering its worst depredations during the French Revolution when the frieze of Old Testament kings on the facade was damaged by enthusiasts who mistook them for the kings of France. It was only in the 1820s that the cathedral was at last given a much-needed restoration, a task entrusted to the great architect-restorer, Viollet-le-Duc, who carried out a thorough (some would say too thorough) renovation, including remaking most of the statuary on the facade – the originals can be seen in the Musée National du Moyen Âge – and adding the steeple and baleful-looking gargoyles.
A devastating fire ripped through Notre-Dame on 15th April 2019, destroying several parts of this most iconic of churches, including its wooden spire. Fortunately, the three 13th century rose windows and most of its art treasures and relics survived. Enormous sums of money have been pledged for the cathedral's restoration, which is expected to be a long-term project.