Most of us have heard the terrible news by now: The great historical cathedral of Paris, popularly known as Notre-Dame, was partly consumed in a terrible fire. The damage to the landmark is nigh incalculable, not least because of the incredible longevity and legacy of Notre-Dame. It has lasted across centuries, immortalized in art and human memory. Here are some facts about the great building you might not have known.
Not What You Think
Contrary to what you might assume, the famous towers of Notre-Dame are not twins. One of them is larger than the other, and the architectural designs are not symmetrical. Rather than being an achievement of a singular vision, the towers represent an evolution in architecture over centuries of construction, reconstruction, and repairs.
An Ambitious Update
Not only was Notre-Dame not the first religious building to stand where it does, it wasn’t even the original Christian place of worship. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the original pagan temple was replaced between the 4th and 7th centuries AD with a church known as the Basilica of Saint-Etienne. This was torn down to make way for Notre-Dame.
Even from the start, the importance of Notre-Dame was widely recognized. When the first stone of Notre-Dame (known in the architectural world as the “cornerstone”) was set in place in 1163, the act was witnessed by Pope Alexander III and King Louis VII.
The Second Spire
The original spire of Notre-Dame was set into place sometime in the early 13th century. After centuries of being worn down by weather, it was taken down in 1786. During the 19th century, a new spire replaced the original, but sadly, this was the spire that was recently destroyed in the terrible 2019 fire.
Bigger Than Any One Person’s Lifetime
Speaking of the Basilica of Saint-Etienne, the order to demolish that building was given by Maurice de Sully, the Bishop of Paris. Construction on Notre-Dame lasted so long that de Sully didn’t even live to witness its completion.
Music Soothes the Savage Beast
Notre-Dame possesses what might be the biggest pipe organ in all of France. Made up of 8,000 pipes, the organ was recently restored in 2013 in celebration of the cathedral’s 850th anniversary.
What a Feat
The towers of Notre-Dame stand around 69 meters tall. Before the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, these towers were the tallest structure in all of Paris.