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Salut !

There are only three things you must see when you’re in Paris : la Tour Eiffel, Notre-Dame, and everything else.

Also known as the Notre-Dame Cathedral or simply Notre-Dame has a long history and presence in the capital. And a strong cultural influence as well — from Disney to North European musicals.

Today, we'll learn about the true grandeur of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Et toi ?

Mentioned in today’s episode:
Man on Wire – Walking on Notre-Dame
Starmania – Original Music 1978
Notre-Dame de Paris, the musical – 1998
Klokkeren fra notre dame

Have you ever been to Notre-Dame?
Have you visited another gothic cathedral, in France or in your own country?
What are the attractions in Paris that impress you?

Share your experience (in French if you dare!) in the comments below. We can all learn from your story. The comment section is the best place to start discussions and ask questions!

Bonne journée,


PS: if you like French monuments, here’s my episode on The Eiffel Tower.

Bonus Material: Download the Transcript

Salut c’est Géraldine, bienvenue sur Comme une Française TV, Sound French, even to the French.

There are only three things you must see when you’re in Paris : la Tour Eiffel, Notre-Dame, and everything else.

Notre-Dame cathedral is my favorite Parisian monument. She’s tall, she’s strong, she’s stood the test of time. As a historian said : « Notre-Dame est à elle-seule un livre d’histoire. » Notre-Dame is a history book all on her own.

Did you know the Danes even made a musical about her ?!!

Let’s dive in.

  1. The heart of Paris

La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, commonly called Notre-Dame, Our Lady, is the seat for the archbishop of Paris. It’s located on l’Île de la Cité – the small island on the river Seine where Paris was first entirely located. It’s an island, so it stands between both banks : la rive droite and la rive gauche. So Notre-Dame gets to be close to the neighbourhood of Le Marais, the museum of Le Louvre, or the Hôtel de Ville on the right flank, and close to Le Quartier Latin or even Saint-Germain-des-Prés, on the left bank. So wherever you are in a big part of Paris, Notre-Dame is perfect as un point de rendez-vous (meeting point) or un point de départ (starting point). The cathedral is in such central position that it’s the actual official center of Paris, and France : when you drive on the roads going to Paris, the number they give you on the signs is the distance in kilometers between you and Notre-Dame. Or actually, between you and a plaque on the esplanade in front of the cathedral, le Parvis de Notre-Dame : this bronze plaque is called le kilomètre zéro. Have you ever noticed it?

Notre-Dame is a favorite of postcard makers – and tourists. More than twenty million people from around the world visit the cathedral every year ! It’s the most visited monument in Paris and Europe.

Nearby, you’ll find small gardens along the river – they’re always full of people of all ages and origins walking, talking with friends, or just enjoying the atmosphere. I love spending time there, in the maternal shadow of the cathedral.

  1. Why she’s important : history and architecture

Notre-Dame was built 850 years ago, in the Middle Ages.

It’s a beautiful example of Gothic architecture : it’s impressive and elegant – high towers with their ornaments and gargoyles, pointed arches, high rib vaults, the beauty of the giant rose windows… This peak of architectural style is called gothique flamboyant.

Another thing makes Notre-Dame truly unique : she’s missing the tops of her towers. Traditionally, a cathedral like this should have much higher towers, with spires. However, the Renaissance came by with new interests and standards, and the cathedral was never truly finished, and the towers were left square – giving Notre-Dame a solid look on her façade, and sa marque de fabrique – her particularity.

Since the construction, Notre-Dame is one of the largest cathedrals in the western world. It used to be even more impressive – the walls and the outer statues used to be painted in many colors. Even now, with its white sculptures, you can see the difference in emotion between La Porte du Paradis, the large door to heaven on the right, and La Porte de l’Enfer, the wide door to hell on the left.

The building is 850 years old, and over the centuries it has seen many kings reign and die, the coronation of Napoleon, even the funeral of our former president. Notre-Dame is a look into the past, a link with all these people across centuries, who saw the same thing you’re seeing, felt the same feelings as you at the feet of Our Lady of Stones and Glass.

It’s the legacy of her builders as well – who built this church with their bare hands for the glory of a God in the sky. Their names are forgotten, but their work still stands… in the middle of the City of Lights.

  1. A cultural monument

Notre-Dame de Paris is also a monument of French culture.

It’s inspired famous singers, like Édith Piaf and Léo Ferré…

And of course, the great Victor Hugo. In 1831, 30 years before he wrote Les Misérables, Victor Hugo published another massive historical novel, simply called : Notre-Dame de Paris. In this story, set in the Middle Ages, the hunchback Quasimodo falls in love with beautiful Esmeralda – but the evil priest Claude Frollo also notices her.

The novel tells a story of heroism and compassion – but also describes the end of an era, and deals with the themes of morality, history, and fate.

It’s a modern plea as well : Victor Hugo fights for the preservation of the monument (which had been sacked in the French Revolution), and against the death penalty. And in the end, everybody dies.

So naturally, Disney turned it into an underrated animated movie for children : the Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

There’ve been many French adaptations, on screen but more famously, in a musical – in the early 2000s, also called Notre-Dame de Paris. Its quality and success brought back a wave of interest in French musicals, that still goes on today. Many French people can still sing the main songs, and I’m pretty sure you can find the DVD version on Youtube.

  1. What’s happening now

Today, the cathedral is alive and well ! The church celebrates 5 to 7 services every day. The building has undergone a complete cleaning and restoration in the last few years, and has been given new lights, and new bells…

Notre-Dame is the most visited place in France. You can freely enter the cathedral and walk around.

Or you can pay and queue to walk up the 400 steps to the towers and enjoy the view. You can wait a long time, but it may be worth it – the guide will also introduce you to the messages and intentions hidden in the architecture, and to the secret wonders of Notre-Dame.

And while you’re waiting for your ticket, you can enjoy the shows of street artists and musicians on le Parvis, or on the bridges nearby.

  1. The extra mile

French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s first performance was to walk between the towers of Notre-Dame. He later tightened his wire between two other towers in New York City and inspired two movies, Man on Wire (2008) and The Walk (2015). [dis pas les années c’est pas la peine].

If you like Notre-Dame, you may enjoy visiting other gothic cathedrals in France, such as Reims, Amiens, Chartres, Strasbourg… or the other Parisian churches, like Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Séverin and many, many others. Check out the lonely and elegant Tour Saint-Jacques, as well – a tower without its church, in the middle of Paris.

If you want to read more of Victor Hugo’s work, you could be bold and try out Les Misérables or his long poems, but I recommend you start with a shorter novel : Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné, The Last Day of a Condemned Man. I read it and I recommend it, it’s a powerful story opposing the death penalty. And you get to say to your friends « Yeah, by the way, I read some Victor Hugo this week ». ;)

And if you want more French musicals, try to find Starmania. It was made two decades before Notre-Dame-de-Paris, and the songs hold up well. It’s a science-fiction dystopia about modern depression, terrorism, and the rise of a right-wing businessman with charisma who builds skyscrapers with his name on them and now runs for President of the Free World – but secretly only wants to be a star. …Oh. Wait…

Anyway, there’s also a Danish musical about Notre-Dame-de-Paris. You can find some of its songs on Youtube as well. It’s… I don’t know if it’s any good, but it exists and I’m happy about that.

It called Klokkeren fra notre dame. My apologies to all my Danish audience for my pronunciation. I love you girls <3 [c’est important que tu fasses un cœur avec les mains à ce moment là :p]

Et toi ? Have you ever been to Notre-Dame? Have you visited another gothic cathedral, in France or in your own country? What are the attractions in Paris that impress you?

Share your experience (in French if you dare!) in the comments below. We can all learn from your story. The comment section is the best place to start discussions and ask questions! Don’t hesitate to comment if you liked this video, or if you have something you want me to talk about - I’ll read all your comments.

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Merci for watching Comme une Française TV, sound French, even to the French.

Allez, salut !

Bonus Material: Download the Transcript

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