Staring up at the tower of Notre-Dame de Paris, you think of the bell ringer. The hunchback. Quasimodo.
Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris and its protagonist Quasimodo, the “Hunchback of Notre-Dame” helped to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining significant medieval buildings and in 1845 brought about a restoration effort by Viollet-le-Duc to revive the neglected cathedral. Ever since, climbing the towers of Notre-Dame has been a must-do for visitors to Paris.
As you climb the narrow steps up to the top of the tower, look around at the windows and the stairs and feel the cold tower wall. When Victor Hugo came here and explored the towers, he came across the Greek word ANAKH, which means ‘fate’. It was one of the sources of inspiration for his novel, and if you pay attention perhaps you can find your own story inspiration carved into the stone.
After you reach the top of the first staircase, you find yourself in the Chimera Gallery. Here, you can see why Disney chose to use the chimeras as Quasimodo’s companions in their 1996 animated film The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. They all seem to have their own unique characters as they stare out past the cathedral and over the city of Paris. Each is carved in such detail, it’s like they were meant to be on display for people to climb the towers to see them.
As you move slowly along the Chimera Gallery, they’re everywhere. It’s a testament to the skill of the stonemasons, who must have spent months and years following Viollet-le-Duc’s designs. You could become so absorbed in picking out the different animals that you could forget to look at the view!
After you’ve taken in the Chimera Gallery (and ducked in to the South Tower’s belfry – mind your step! – to see Emmanuel, the cathedral’s largest bell weighing in at over 13 tonnes!), you have another staircase to ascend, which takes you to the very top of the South Tower for a 360 degree view of Paris.
The view of Paris changes depending on where you are. From the Towers of Notre-Dame, higgledy-piggledy rooftops hide streets and almost take over the Seine. Only the spires of churches, domes of palaces and the very tops of towers can be seen.
Don’t forget to look down over the cathedral itself and admire the architecture of the catchments that carry rain water to spout from the mouths of the gargoyles, to the flying buttresses that support the cathedral walls.
Whether or not you find story inspiration and go on to write a bestseller like Victor Hugo, take the time to climb the Towers of Notre-Dame and you will find one of the best views over Paris.
Do you have a favourite view of Paris? Share it in the comments!
- If you’re standing in front of Notre-Dame de Paris, the entrance to the towers is to the left of the cathedral
- Get there early and be prepared to wait – in summer (June – August) you could be queuing for up to two hours
- More information can be found at the official website of the Towers of Notre Dame or at the Notre-Dame de Paris website