(Note: The links in this post are affiliate links, and we will be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links. Read our disclosure policy.)
Notre Dame Cathedral is currently undergoing reconstruction due to the fire of 2019. While you still can see most of the exterior features of the Cathedral, the interior is no longer available to tour.
When making the trip to Paris, one of the most popular attractions is Notre Dame Cathedral. This is one of the most spectacular cathedrals in the world and filled with amazing details. When you understand the Notre Dame Cathedral architecture, and get to experience it in person, you will see why this UNESCO World Heritage Site is so beloved by the world.
Notre Dame Cathedral Architecture
Notre Dame Cathedral Exterior Details
Built between the 12th & 13th centuries, it is one of the most popular examples of French Gothic architecture from the Middle ages.
One of the main features of French Gothic architecture is that the buildings were constructed to represent the idea of bringing man closer to God, both figuratively and literally. Cathedrals were constructed vertically, drawing the eye (and the soul) upward to God.
This can be seen in Notre Dame on the Western façade with the Twin towers and 295 foot spire that appear to be reaching toward heaven.
The cathedral’s spire is not the original. It was replaced in 1860. Around the base of the spire are the statues of the 12 apostles and creatures symbolic of the gospels from the Bible.
You will immediately be drawn to the ornate stone carvings on Notre Dame. There are five distinctive horizontal sections of the Western façade of the building.
The entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral has three portals, with double doorways. Above each doorway is a Tympanum (ornamental arch stonework).
At the left is the Portal of the Virgin, at the center is Portal of the Last Judgement, and to the right is the Portal of St. Anne.
The Portal of the Virgin has stone carvings that depicts the life of Mary. The Portal of the Last Judgement features carvings based on the Judgement of Christ, the Apostles and the resurrection from the dead. Lastly, The Portal of St. Anne shows the life of Virgin Mary’s mother.
Above the portals is the Gallery of Kings. The row features 28 statues representing each of the kings of Judah which descend from Abraham.
Centered above the Gallery of Kings is a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, flanked by angels. It is not an accident that the Rose Window is the back drop. It is meant to appear as a halo over her head.
The Grand Gallery, also known as the Chimeras Gallery (based on the Gargoyles placed there), connects the South and North towers.
You will notice a number of Gargoyles perched along the exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral. The purpose of the Gargoyles is two-fold. They are there to divert rain water off the roof of the cathedral and also provide a grotesque reminder of the demons that lurk outside the church.
Another common feature of French Gothic architecture are Flying buttresses. Flying buttresses have two key features: a massive vertical masonry block on the outside of the building and a half arch bridging the gap between the buttress and the wall.
Interior Architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral
As soon as you walk inside Notre Dame Cathedral you will be overwhelmed by the space. The cathedral is nearly the length of a football field with high vaulted ceilings.
At the front of the Nave is the high alter featuring an 18th-century Pieta by Nicolas Coustou and golden cross.
Along with the stonework, you will also find some beautifully done woodwork that dates back to the 14th century.
These fourteenth-century painted wood panels along the choir screen, feature scenes from the life of Jesus.
When it comes to stain glass, Notre Dame cathedral doesn’t disappoint. The light coming in illuminates the space in the most beautiful warm glow. Much of the stained glass windows date from the 13th century when the cathedral was constructed.
One should take time to see each of the three Rose Windows.
The West Rose Window has the theme of Life. You will find zodiac symbols and labors of the months (activities taking place during the 12 months of a given year). This window is nearly all authentic to the construction of the cathedral.
Unfortunately, it is one of the hardest to see because of the placement of the Cathedral’s organ. The organ, with nearly 8000 pipes dates back (in part) to the 13th century.
The North Rose Window features stories of the Old Testament with the center depicting Mary & Christ child.
The South Rose Window centers on the New Testament. This window was donated by King St. Louis in the 13th century, but has been repaired several times and resulted in some of the panes being accidentally rearranged.
Notre-Dame cathedral is famous for its relics. These relics were initially kept in Sainte-Chapelle and later moved to Notre Dame. They include the crown of thorns, piece of Jesus’ cross, the Tunic of St. Louis, as well as pieces of various religious artwork.