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Notre Dame Paris Cathedral Tower

The Notre Dame Cathedral Tower: Is it worth the climb?

YES. It WAS worth it, even though it meant climbing 402 steps.

At about step 236 the wry quote attributed to someone whose last name has particular appeal to me, Sam Redwine, Jr . came to mind: “Software and cathedrals are much the same - first we build them, then we pray." Climbing these steps one tends to be asking the Good Lord to help you get to the top without expiring.

Once there, I would have liked to have had time to really focus on the timbered house behind this square, or the more simple church in the park beside, but there we had no time to linger as another group was upon fast on our heels and we were shepherded onwards.

View of  neighbourhood square below from Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

Far in the distance there was the Sacré Coeur, with the Domed Invalides Church, and in the foreground orderly rows of buildings.

Paris laid out between the Sacre Couer and Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

...but a better view was from another section, with the stunning whiteness of the domes of Notre Dame calling me back to their hilltop...

View of Sacre Couer from Notre Dame Paris

… and in the other direction the Eiffel Tower

View to Eiffel Tower from Notre Dame Cathedral Tower

From every direction it is a visual feast reflecting Haussmann’s layout of the city.

Georges-Eugène, 1st Baron Haussmann was actually educated as a lawyer, but being a good musician, he concurrently studied music at the Paris Conservatorium of Music. These studies seem a strange background for his future role in civic planning when he became Prefect of the Seine Département.

In this capacity, he was undaunted in securing the funding for his massive rebuilding of the boulevards, the twelve grand avenues radiating from the Arc de Triomphe, La Défense and the Grande Arche, and the street facades of Paris (plus the sewers beneath), all started under the reign of Napoleon III.

Haussmann eventually ran foul of the government for the vast cost of his massive renovations and his place in history varies according to one’s perspective.

Some see him as the person who destroyed medieval Paris and some see him as the architect of the new, and much treasured city we now enjoy.

The impact of Baron Hausemann's redesigning of Paris seen from Notre Dame

As you move around the parapets, the vastness of the Paris landscape is laid out for you to find all your favourite landmarks but some of the most famous of all reside right there.

As if you needed another incentive, many think the best reason for climbing all those steps is the chance to be ‘up close and personal’ with the gargoyles and other tower guardians.

Notre Dame Cathedral Tower Gargoyle overlooking local park Paris

The term “Gargoyle” comes from the Latin word “gurgulio” – having the double meaning both of “throat” and the gurgling noise made by water running through a drain pipe. Appropriate for the fact that the purpose of a true gargoyle is to project rain water far from the building through his open mouth. Gothic cathedrals usually required an army of gargoyles to handle the rainwater.

The fantastic and often weird creatures that often accompany gargoyles on their lofty perch, but usually not serving irrigation purposes, are appropriately called “grotesques”.

Popular history suggests that they were often malicious caricatures of people with whom either the person commissioning the work, or the artist, had a difference!

Gargoyle and Stone Bird on Notre Dame Cathedral  Tower

Not knowing the personalities, all that we recognise now is what a marvellous foil they make for the city of Paris, over which they stare

Stone Watch Birds on the Notre Dame Cathedral Tower Paris

I am pleased to have made a passing acquaintance with them – grotesque and gargoyle alike.

They were on my list of “Things to Do in Paris” and I found it somehow comforting to know that they watched over me as I explored the city, its monuments and hidden places.

Gargoyle overlooking the River Seine Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

The Gargoyle often makes his perch

On a cathedral or a church,

Where, mid ecclesiastic style,

He smiles an early-Gothic smile

Oliver Herford


More Paris pages:

Paris Notre Dame Cathedral

Paris Eiffel Tower

Paris Trocadéro

Paris Angels

Paris Food

Paris Charm

Paris: Theatre at Large

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