The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris has been a beloved architectural beauty for centuries. The cathedral is full of art and craftsmanship and draws millions of visitors every year.
When part of the cathedral was destroyed in a fire on April 15th, 2019, some of this beauty was lost forever. While there’s been an outpouring of donations and support for reconstruction, the restored roof and spire won’t be exactly the same. For example, the 800-year-old wooden beams of the roof came from old-growth forests. Such massive trees are rare now and unlikely to be chopped down.
To commemorate this loss, as well as celebrate the enduring beauty of Notre-Dame, here are 25 beautiful photos of the cathedral taken before the fire.
Photos of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Fortunately, because much of the cathedral’s structure survived the fire, future photos of the cathedral won’t be massively different from the ones below. Many of the following images can still serve as inspiration for future shots of Notre-Dame. Below are four parts of the cathedral that photographers have especially loved to shoot.
North and South Towers
The towers of Notre-Dame are perhaps the most iconic part of the cathedral. Facing west towards the famous square, Parvis Notre-Dame / place Jean-Paul-II, the towers bring to mind scenes from history and popular culture.
For example, much of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo took place in these towers. The main character, the bellringer Quasimodo, lives in the South Tower where the bells are located. From this vantage point, he watches the people, festivals, and tragedies in the square.
This square is still a center of activity, often crowded with tourists snapping photos of the cathedral. This crowd can make an interesting foreground for photos of the towers, but if you want a more peaceful shot, try visiting the square in the late evening or early morning.
Because the towers are so high, you can also leave out the square and photograph the towers against the sky. In the right weather or lighting, these sky-filled compositions can be stunning.
Gargoyles and Other Statues
Besides the two towers, the statues of monsters perched on Notre-Dame are one of the cathedral’s most famous features. Its gargoyles, in particular, are famous thanks to The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and the countless photos taken by visitors.
Because mythical monsters like gargoyles aren’t a big part of Christianity nowadays, the strange sight of them on a cathedral gives an immediate impression of medieval culture and religion. During the Gothic period, when Notre-Dame was built, mythical monsters carried symbolic meaning when set on a church. They represented the evil outside, compared to the holiness and safety inside the church.
To an illiterate and superstitious society, the monsters were also seen as protectors, keeping evil spirits away from the church. This view was actually closer to the truth, as the gargoyles did protect the church, in a way. They kept rainwater off the cathedral walls to prevent damage from erosion.
Whatever their symbolical meaning, the grotesque statues make wonderful photography subjects. They add a touch of creepiness to an otherwise picturesque city view, creating a unique image of Paris.
Spire and Flying Buttresses
Photos shot from the eastern or backside of Notre-Dame capture the cathedral’s spire and flying buttresses. This spire was completely destroyed in the fire, and it’s unlikely that the next spire will look the same. In fact, France has launched an architectural competition that welcomes new designs of the spire, reflecting “the techniques and challenges of our time.”
It won’t be the first time that the spire has been redesigned. The original spire built in the 13th century was removed in 1786 due to damage from the wind and weather. The spire shown in the following photos was built in the 19th century and designed by French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
Notre-Dame’s flying buttresses – those arches supporting the cathedral walls and roof – all survived the fire. That’s a good thing because they’re a key part of Notre-Dame’s structure and history. They date back to the 14th century and were a major architectural innovation at the time.
With flying buttresses, the cathedral walls can be thinner and higher, and the windows can be much larger. In other words, key elements of Notre-Dame’s beauty were possible thanks to those arches.
When inspecting the fire’s damage, one big relief was the discovery that Notre-Dame’s magnificent stained-glass windows were all intact. Reaching almost to the ceiling, the windows are priceless examples of 13th-century European stained glass.
Besides these windows, Notre-Dame had many sculptures, paintings, and artifacts that visitors could admire inside the cathedral. Sadly, some of this artwork was destroyed or damaged during the fire due to smoke and water.
Despite this loss, Notre-Dame will undoubtedly continue to inspire awe once the restoration is complete. After all, so much of a cathedral’s beauty is held in its atmosphere. The rich history, glowing candles, and tall, gorgeous windows of Notre-Dame will draw photographers, even after the disastrous fire.