Traveling Down Memory Lane – Notre Dame Cathedral, the symbol of Paris
Our tour of the French countryside provided respite from our first few days in the bustling urban environment of Paris, but soon enough, it was back to the City of Light before returning to Canada. I won’t say that we saved the best for last, but our final sightseeing did include a visit to famous Notre Dame Cathedral, an evening spent at Moulin Rouge, and a romantic boat cruise on the Seine River.
Bob and I were drawn to the quays along the Seine River as we had been during the early days of our vacation and for good reason. Added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1991, the banks of the River Seine offer a front row seat for all the highlights of Paris.
From architectural masterpieces such as Notre Dame and the Grand Palais, the Louvre and Les Invalides,
to the Musée d’Orsay, the Mint and the Eiffel Tower, we were beguiled by all the history and romance and seduced by the riverside ambience. The Seine River peacefully winds its way through the heart of the oldest part of Paris,
so we were inspired to take a river cruise for a different perspective on the capital’s most impressive buildings, intimate parks, graceful gardens and historic bridges.
Situated on the west side of Île de la Cité, Le Conciergerie speaks to many different aspects of the past.
At one time, part of the former royal palace, Palais de la Cité, it housed the Conciergerie, Saint-Chapelle and the Palais de Justice. Today, Le Conciergerie is used mostly by courts of law.
La Samaritaine, a once highly prosperous and renowned department store that first opened in 1869, sits adjacent to Pont Neuf. The store took its name from a pump located near the bridge, a pump adorned with a gilded bas-relief of the Samaritan Woman. The pump originally was used to draw river water for public use.
Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge that crosses River Seine, and it was the first stone bridge in Paris with no homes lining the sides of the thoroughfare. Some of the mascarons (masks) that decorate the bridge have witnessed life since the Middle Ages. Then seen as the heart of the city, it was the common gathering place for charlatans, street performers, artists and all manner of people.
Pont Neuf was constructed in two spans, one with five arches linking the Left Bank of the Seine to Île de la Cité, which is then linked to the right bank by a span of 7 arches.
Pont Neuf is within sight of Notre Dame Cathedral seen just to the rear left. The artfully carved embellishments on the arches of the bridge are the imperial insignia for Napoleon III, thus the capital letters “N”.
With the river cruise at an end, Bob and I opted for drinks aboard a floating cafe at riverside near Quay Montebello. Being early springtime, the air was damp and chill, so lingering within view of Notre Dame Cathedral warranted a hot drink and garnered us more time to appreciate the haunting beauty of its grandeur.
We couldn’t leave Paris without having a closeup view of this medieval Catholic Cathedral that is also known as Notre Dame de Paris, so we proceeded across Pont de l’Archevêché to get to Île de la Cité. We had an excellent view of the eastern facade as we crossed the Seine.
Notre Dame is widely considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world, on top of being one of the largest and most recognized churches on the planet. Known for its flying buttresses, the arched exterior supports that make this cathedral distinct were a feature added to the construction of the building as an after thought. They were required to support the high, thin walls that were already beginning to crack.
As Bob and I stood in front of the main entrance, the western facade, of Notre Dame Cathedral, we were beyond impressed with the two towers that date to the 13th century as well as the three richly sculpted cavernous portals. The Gallery of Kings and Christian icons reveal painstaking work by medieval stonecutters. Although work first began on the Cathedral in 1163, it took 182 years to complete construction. I was particularly interested in the rose window, one of three that appear in the Cathedral.
Once inside the cool, dimly-lit interior of the Nave, the sheer size of the space was imposing. Also of staggering dimensions were the cylindrical piers that support the arches on either side of the Nave and the soaring height of the vaulted ceiling. I immediately turned around for an interior view of the Rose Window. It surprised me to see the grand organ pipes silhouetted in front of the intricately patterned window that was the first and smallest built into the Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral abounds with sculpted statues and sculptures, both inside and outside. It is impossible to feature all of them, but this one of Virgin and Child, dated to the 14th Century, is a fair representation of the fine workmanship that went into each piece of statuary.
There is a special celestial aura about Notre Dame Cathedral owing to its remarkable collection of stained glass windows. Exceptional fine craftsmanship resulted in intricate designs that filter jewel-toned rays of light into the otherwise subdued interior. This trio of windows illuminates the lofty heights of the Chancel.
But it is the magnificence of the West, North and South Rose Windows that makes them the masterpieces of the Cathedral. Here, we see the South Transept Rose Window from outside the Cathedral. It is hard to believe that a wall bearing up tons of stone could be perforated by a yawning aperture then made strong and stable by a fine web of stone that crisscrosses the opening.
It is that resulting tracery that is the framework for the masterful stained glass works of art. The symmetrical arrangement of the glass lends strength to the window by distributing the weight equally across the perforated wall. This is the South Rose Window as viewed from inside the Transept. A gift from King Saint Louis in 1260 AD, this stained glass window measures 42 feet across. As sunlight migrates across the southern sky, a heavenly light spills through the exquisitely detailed and beautifully rendered scenes to transform the Transept into a warm, enveloping sanctuary.
Although not as famous as any of the Rose Windows, many other beautiful stained glass windows grace the walls of Notre Dame.
With our day of sightseeing drawing to a close, Bob and I retreated to our hotel for an afternoon nap with plans to be entertained at Moulin Rouge that evening. Named The Red Mill, it is marked by the glowing red windmill on its facade that acts as a beacon to all nightlife revelers looking for a rousing evening of entertainment in Paris.
And entertained, we were! The famous cabaret was quite extraordinary! From seductive can-can dancers, to magic acts, burlesque and comedy, a massive boa constrictor writhing in a transparent pool of water right in front of our table, titillating costumes and rousing music, it delighted our senses and still resonates with the romance of its early days.
In fact, Féerie revue and its large cast retraced the complete history of the Moulin Rouge through its acts. One thing that has remained constant, however, is the lavish interior decor using loads of mirrors and moody lighting. It was not only the nightclub that was altered by artful illumination. Glimmering lights transformed the city, itself, into something magical every night. It was with a heavy heart that we prepared to say goodbye to Paris, but we have plans to return some day. Au revoir to the city of love!
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