What a sad day yesterday to watch the news last night and see the beautiful Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral on fire.
We sat in shock watching one of France’s iconic monuments in flames and felt sadness for the loss of history and an impressive example of Gothic architecture.
I’ve watched news footage of the spire and roof collapsing many times in the past 24 hours and it’s still incredible to think a legacy of French history has been partially damaged overnight.
Rather than share a video of the fire, I thought I’d share a few lesser known facts about the historic landmark best known as Notre-Dame de Paris:
If you visit Notre-Dame, on the Parvis (square) at the entrance you can see a compass star set into the paving stones.
It’s not particularly famous (considering the millions of tourists who visit the Île de la Cité to see Notre-Dame each year!) and it’s not very noticeable. However, this small marker stone is very important to Paris and France.
Engraved in the circular stone are the words: POINT – ZERO – DES ROUTES – DE FRANCE
What does this mean? This stands for ‘Point Zero’ or Kilometre Zero, which is a particular location (often found in the capital city) from which distances are traditionally measured.
The most famous Point Zero/Kilometre Zero relic worldwide is Millarium Aureum (Golden Milestone) which was erected by Emperor Augustus in the central Forum in Rome. All distances in the Roman Empire were measured relative to this monument and it is where the phrase ‘all roads lead to Rome’ is believed to have originated.
The metal octagonal plate seen at Notre-Dame today was laid in 1924. It marks the official centre of Paris and signifies the exact spot from which all distances throughout France are measured from Paris, including GPS French systems. Notre-Dame’s function as a central hub plays an important historical role in French transport, politics and Parisian administration.
So, indeed, Notre-Dame de Paris is regarded as the true heart of Paris and this respect for one of France’s greatest landmarks is evident.
Notre-Dame de Paris’ Gargoyles
The stone gargoyles located on the exterior of the cathedral have been the subject of many tourist photos!
These fantastic beasts at Notre-Dame de Paris are very famous, appearing in postcards, films and tourism promotions.
Although the cathedral construction began in the 12th-century, these gargoyles weren’t added until the 19th-century and were sculpted to look as though they had originated in the Middle Ages.
Gargoyles were thought to ward off bad spirits and remind church-goers of the evil that the church could protect them from.
Interestingly, you won’t see all gargoyles with a closed mouth – they are placed on the rooftops and sides of churches to prevent water erosion and their open mouths function as rain spouts.
Interesting Fact: Completely unrelated to Notre-Dame, the Chapelle de Bethléem (Bethlehem Chapel) which is located in Saint-Jean-de-Boiseau in France was renovated between 1993 and 1995. At this time, the stone mason decided to add gargoyles from pop culture so you’ll find a few crazy additions to the stone work including Gizmo and a gremlin from the Gremlins movie and an alien from Aliens.
A Temple of Reason – and wine!
After Catholicism was banned in 1792 during the French Revolution, Notre-Dame de Paris was turned into a Temple of Reason in 1793.
A Temple of Reason was a place to spread the ideas of a new atheistic belief system, the Cult of Reason.
Notably, there are a few ‘cult-like’ symbols found on pillars along the side aisles where the chapels are located. Don’t get too excited that you’ve spotted some secret Da Vinci Code – the artisans who helped build the cathedral engraved their own symbols into the stone work putting the cathedral coffers to the test by ensuring they were rightfully paid for each item they laid. Think of it as an ancient invoicing system before online banking was invented!
Interesting Fact: By the 18th-century, limestone and gypsum mining was the main industrial activity in Paris. Most of Paris’ monuments and churches are made from local stone and experts can trace the stone used in structures to a specific quarry. For example, the statues at Notre-Dame all came from the limestone under Hospital Cochin in the 5th arrondissement. The quarry pits of Paris are now subterranean, with miles of underground tunnels and sewer galleries which can be visited on various tours.
Anyhow during the Revolution, the cathedral spire was destroyed, as well, the 28 statues of the horizontal freize of the Kings of Judah above the Notre-Dame portal were decapitated by French revolutionaries who believed they represented the kings of France. The cathedral then ended up as a warehouse for wine!
In the late 1970’s, 21 of these statue heads were found buried in a wall at a mansion courtyard in Paris and are now displayed at Musée Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages).
Notre-Dame’s historic link with wine continues – tomorrow, 17 April, Sotheby’s in London will auction limited-edition cases of Château Mouton Rothschild wine with proceeds going toward the rebuilding of Notre-Dame de Paris and the restoration of the Royal Apartments and Trianon Gardens at the Palace of Versailles.
I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something new about the Notre-Dame de Paris! Please share it if you found it interesting. Thank you.