8 March 2024

Zoom lecture

Monuments of Paris 1

The Story of Notre Dame

 with Anne Catherine Abecassis

Maximilien Luce, The Quai Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame, 1901, Paris, Musée d'Orsay
Maximilien Luce, The Quai Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame, 1901, Paris, Musée d'Orsay

The history of Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris is closely bound to the history of France. Built in the 12th century, modified in the 18th and restored in the 19th, it has been the principal symbol of Christian worship in Paris since the Middle Ages, but also a royal, political and cultural monument that has inspired writers and artists ever since.


By the early 19th century, the 500-year-old cathedral was falling into disrepair. Vandalized and poorly maintained, it was even considered for demolition. In 1831, the immense literary success of Victor Hugo's novel Notre Dame de Paris gave rise to a popular movement to defend and save the cathedral.


From 1844 to 1864, an ambitious restoration project was led by Neo-Medievalist architect Viollet-le-Duc and documented by the first photographers of the 19th century. The architect wished to remain faithful to the medieval monument but allowed himself a few creative touches. He drew inspiration from Victor Hugo's novel to re-design the sculptures, especially the monsters that adorn the cathedral's heights.


Notre Dame is known and admired the world over, as evidenced by the worldwide outpouring of emotion following the great fire that destroyed the roof on April 15, 2019. Five years after the fire, the spire of Notre-Dame-de-Paris reappeared in the Paris skyline on February 12, 2024. We will conclude our lecture with the scheduled reopening of Notre-Dame on December 8, 2024, after the Paris Olympics.

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