Fenton & White Go Way Up

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NOTRE DAME DE PARIS CATHEDRAL IS A SPIRITUAL PLACE THAT HAS FOUND ITS WAY INTO LITERATURE.

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We have blogged about places with views over Paris, artwork and museums, parks and monuments.  Today, we decided it was time to go to the centre of the Isle de Cite and explore Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, and the Archaeological Crypt.  We made our way to the core of the city on the Metro and started with the square outside of the cathedral.

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SOLDIERS PATROL TOURIST AREAS

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Paris has been on high alert for some time.  In most places there are security scanners to go through and at many central locations, it is not uncommon to see armed military personnel  walking around.  We always felt safe, but we were also very aware of these uniformed officers.

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THE CATHEDRAL NOTRE DAME DE PARIS IS A FINE EXAMPLE OF FRENCH GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE

As with most houses of worship in Paris, the sanctuary is open early in the morning and the devout can participate in services in the front section of the church.  For many others, the space is a peaceful place to meditate or simply admire the architecture.  This cathedral was one of the first in the world to use flying buttresses, (added part way through because the walls were cracking from the weight of the stone),  and it took a long time to build.  The groundbreaking for this 4800 square metre church was in 1163, but the building was built in phases and although some parts of the church were usable early on, the structure wasn’t complete until 1345.  A more recent  phase of restoration of the stone on the building included  adding the carvings of the amazing Chimeras and other sculptures that adorn the eaves of the middle level of the cathedral This happened in 1845.

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THE STUNNING NORTH ROSE WINDOW IN THE CATHEDRAL

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A walk around the sanctuary of the church doesn’t take that long, but is worth a stroll and perhaps a moment of silent meditation.   We wanted to go higher up … to the famed bell towers that made their way into Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The Museum Pass included the price of the climb, but line-ups start early, so it is wise to get there far in advance.  We lined up at 9 AM and by 9:30 (when the climb to the top opened) there were several hundred people behind us.  We got to start our climb up the 387 steps at about 9:45 after going through a security check point and a metal detecting scan.

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THE FIRST PART OF THE CLIMB IS UP A WIDE STAIRWAY

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AFTER 50 STEPS YOU ARRIVE AT A GIFT SHOP WHERE YOU PURCHASE YOUR TICKET, OR SHOW YOUR PASS TO START THE REAL CLIMB

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We climbed the first 50 stairs, and wound up in a gift shop where visitors purchase their tickets.  They held us there for a few minutes to ensure that on our journey up, the stairs would not be too crowded.

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THE REMAINING STAIRS ARE NARROW AND STEEP AND LEFT US OUT OF BREATH

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So why do people climb these towers?  Well, aside from the wonderful view at the top, Notre Dame de Paris has something special about it.  A sculpture gallery of sorts that you can see from the ground.

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THE GARGOYLES OF NOTRE DAME DE PARIS ARE WORLD FAMOUS

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When I think of Gargoyles, I think of winged beasts, but in fact, a gargoyle is a carved water spout.  True gargoyles have a trough in the top and their purpose is to drain water from the top of the building and away from the marble so it doesn’t damage the exterior of the church. The word “gargoyle” is thought to originate from the French word “gargouille” which meant throat.  Today the English language has adopted a similar term … to gargle.  It must look fierce when the gargoyles above are spewing rainwater out of their open jaws.

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A VIEW OF THE HOLLOW TOP OF A GARGOYLE WHICH DRAINS WATER AWAY FROM THE CHURCH

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THIS GROTESQUE WONDERS WHY PEOPLE CALL HIM BY THE WRONG NAME

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The statues that don’t have gutters are called Grotesques.  They are stone carvings, often with menacing appearances reminding the patrons of the church that evil must be warded off.  The Notre Dame de Paris features hundreds of these statues and by climbing up to the top, you get a chance to get up close and personal with a number of them.  Winged creatures with the parts of more than one animal combined are known as Chimeras which are beasts found in Greek mythology.

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THIS FELLOW SEEMS RATHER HUNGRY

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THIS SECTION OF THE CARVING GALLERY IS LIKE VISITING A ZOO OF STONE CREATURES

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THIS CHIMERA LOOKS OUT OVER THE SQUARE  46 METRES BELOW

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THIS FELLOW IS LIKELY ONE OF THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED GROTESQUES IN PARIS

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The climb is only part way done when you reach the sculpture gallery.  There are still many stairs to go to reach the top of the south bell tower.  As you cross the mid-level, you get very close to the edge of the eaves.  The path is quite narrow.  Fortunately, these  areas are caged in for safety.

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SOME AREAS OF THE CLIMB TAKE YOU RIGHT TO THE EDGE

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Prior to reaching the summit of the climb there is an opportunity to go through a door and climb a set of concrete stairs through a series of wooden beams.  If you look beside you through the mesh as you climb, you will see a long drop to the bottom.

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paris-2016-492 THESE STAIRS LEAD YOU TO A STUNNING SURPRISE

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And then you come to the top of the stairs and go into a high alcove,  and hanging above you is one of the bells of Notre Dame de Paris.  Those very same bells that  would have been wrung by Quasimodo in Victor Hugo’s fictional novel … The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

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THIS IS NO ORDINARY BELL

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PETE STANDS IN FRONT OF THE BELL TO GET A SENSE OF THE SCALE … IT IS MASSIVE

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The bells on the climb are no longer in use in the south tower, but the bells in the north tower still ring out the time on the hour.

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IN THE LOWER RIGHT OF THIS PICTURE YOU CAN SEE OTHER VISITORS AT THE LEVEL OF THE SCULPTURE GALLERY.  WE ARE LOOKING DOWN ON THEM FROM THE EDGE OF THE BELL TOWER.

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THIS IS THE REWARD FOR THE CLIMB TO THE VERY TOP

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Even on a grey day, the views from the top of the bell tower are stunning and show off classic Paris.  There is a man who monitors the crowds at the top.  You are asked to stay up there for only 5 minutes which allows you to walk around the perimeter of the tower, getting views in all directions.  As the next group of climbers comes out and start their journey around the top you go down the top section via the same stairs you came up … controlled at either end by security guards with walkie-talkies to ensure there isn’t a traffic jam on the narrow stairs.

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THE ARCHEOLOGICAL CRYPT IS A SHORT DIVERSION THAT IS INCLUDED ON THE MUSEUM PASS.

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After descending to the square, we crossed to the far end and descended underground into an exhibit which shows you the very foundations of Paris.  The Archaeological Crypt gives a sense of the literal roots of the the Isle de Cite beneath the streets and has some excellent historical exhibits that helped us put in order the various kings, rulers and people who had built the city.  We wandered the exhibits for 30 minutes and then our hunger got the best of us.  It was time for lunch.  As we made our way back up onto the streets we admired the variety of buskers looking for coins from visitors.

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BACK ON THE STREETS OF PARIS, THINGS HAD GONE TO THE DOGS

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THIS ACCORDION AND BASS PLAYER WERE MAKING A JOYFUL SOUND ON THE PONT SAINT-LOUIS

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And where would one go for lunch but Le Quasimodo  Notre Dame, a fine cafe with delicious wine, an outstanding Quiche Lorraine and of course a strong coffee to top it off.

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LE QUASIMODO NOTRE DAME WAS A SUITABLE LUNCH SPOT AFTER VISITING NOTRE DAME DE PARIS

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Tomorrow … a moving monument, going to prison, and the attraction that literally took our breath away.

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Fenton & White

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