Sites and Sounds of Revolutionary Paris

Notre Dame
Revolutionary Tradition and Les Mis
Revolution 1789
--The Monarchy
--Tennis Court Oath
--Fall of the Bastille
--October Days
--Declaration of War
--Palace Invaded
--Louis XVI
--Reign of Terror
-- Fall of Robespierre
--At war
1789 in Les Miserables
--The Terror
--The People
--The Students
--The Monarchy
--Place de Concord
--Notre Dame
Daily Sites
--Street Names
--Children's Names and Games
Works Consulted

The cathedral of Notre Dame is one of the finest examples of 12th and 13th century Gothic architecture ever built. I have developed this site for people reading the novel, Les Miserables, so they can develop an understanding as to why Victor Hugo often makes references to the cathedral in the novel. During the decades of revolution in France, the cathedral often times played an instrumental and symbolic role for the rebels of Paris. In Les Miserable Gavroche, a street gamin, refers to the enormity of the cathedral:

Do you know, at night, when I walk along the boulevard, I see the trees like forks, I see houses, all black and as big as Notre Dame, I fancy that the white walls are the river, I say to myself: 'Why, there's water there!'

(Les Miserable, Marius, ch. XI)


A side view of the Notre Dame cathedral in 1845

The first building ever to occupy the Île de la Cité, a small island in the Seine was begun in 1163 by Pope Alexander III. The high altar was consecrated 20 years later, and the nave was completed except for the roofing in 1196. However, in 1230 the nave was reconstructed and the present flying buttresses were added. Soon after, chapels were installed between the buttresses, which radically altered not only the plan but the entire aesthetic of the building. The towers were finished in 1245, but the building was not completed until the beginning of the 14th century. Some of the master builders included Jehan de Chelles, Pierre de Montreuil, Pierre de Chelles, and Jehan Rave. Skillful restorations were begun in 1845 by Viollet-le-Duc.

* Frontal view of Notre Dame in 1845

 Even cathedrals proved to not be an exception to the violence and vandalism that took place during the French Revolution. After the revolution of 1789 the constituent assembly held their meetings in the archbishops palace. In 1793 rioters converted the cathedral into a “Temple of Reason" and destroyed the sculptures of the west facade. After the rioters were through, the chief surgeon of hotel Dieu, who converted it into a amphitheater of anatomy, took up residence. However, in 1802 the residence was returned to the clergy. Then again in February 1831 the cathedral was invaded, this time the rebels broke and burned everything in the arch bishops palace. The destruction was later corrected and the cathedral was never again ransacked.


 * all pictures taken from the book Paris a bibliography