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Paris: A modern look at a classic city (2)

Posted by on September 22, 2013


The marker in the cobblestones near this impressive church, denoting “point zero”, is the spot from whcih all French road distances are measured. Notre-Dame is, thus, considered by many the centre of France.
This cathedral, placed on an island surrounded by the Seine river, was one of earliest parts of Paris to be settled in the neutral ground dividing the city’s Left Bank and Right Bank. A lot of what appears medieval is really not so much medieval, it is in fact of a relatively modern style called “neo-medieval”.
During one of the points of French Revolution, the population took an anti-clerical turn, and the cathedral was damaged by it. Most of its bells were melted down and in 1793 the 28 royal statues on the main façade were vandalised, their heads hacked off – the crowd had allegedly mistaken these Biblical rulers for kings of France.

By 1831, when Victor Hugo wrote his famous The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the cathedral had become a complete embarrassment for the French. The architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was brought in to bring Notre-Dame back to glory in the 1840s – less than two centuries ago. This architect, however, was keen of introducing innovation to this restoration projects, and he did so in the case of Notre-Dame, taking some freedom to introduce his own, original elements to it. These elements include Notre-Dame’s famous “grotesques” – not properly gargoyles, as the only use they have is of decoration, unlike the others that act as waterspouts. Stairs in form of spiral lead you to the Galerie des Chimères, with grotesques placed all around this walway between the west towers They weren’t on the original blueprints, but then again Notre-Dame never got the spires that were meant to top its twin square towers. Perhaps a great cathedral is always a work in progress (and Notre-Dame is not a unique case – just look at Gaudi's Sagrada Familia).


The largest painting you can find in Louvre is The Wedding Feast at Cana, painted by Paolo Veronese in 1563. It covers a whole wall of the Salle des États, and in any other room it would be the focus of attention. On the wall just next to it, however is a modest small portrait in smoky colours of a woman smiling in a strange, mysterious way. Thanks to the Mona Lisa, known in France as La Joconde, the figures in Veronese’s masterpiece spend most of their time looking out onto a throng of people with their backs turned.

... Continued at Paris: A modern look at a classic city (3)

Written by James Crandell

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