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Mariano Gonzalez Presencio, Professor of the School of Architecture of the University of Navarra

Notre Dame, a historical, artistic and cultural landmark

Wed, 17 Apr 2019 13:14:00 +0000 Published in La Razón

Still overwhelmed by the images of the collapse of the spire of the Notre Dame cathedral and in the hope that the dreadful fire that caused the tragedy and the extensive damage that the monument is undoubtedly suffering can soon be stopped, here are some notes that serve to gauge the scope of what has happened in Paris for the world's heritage.

Notre Dame, beyond being one of the most visited monuments in Paris and, therefore, in the world, is a true compendium of architectural history; it is located in the epicenter of the region known as L'Île de France where the French Gothic reached its maximum splendor and where other jewels such as the cathedrals of Chartres, Reims or Amiens are located. Notre Dame was the first of them all to begin construction in 1163, following the guidelines that Abbot Suger had dictated in the Basilica of Saint Denis, the foundational building of Gothic.

The place where it is located, in the middle of the island of La Cité, in the heart of Paris, was already occupied by other temples before, in fact its factory was built on the footprint of a previous Romanesque church. Less sophisticated than the aforementioned cases, begun somewhat later, it has clear Norman Gothic influences that can be seen in the robust towers of the facade.

Throughout its history it has undergone various modifications that have only reinforced its condition of architectural palimpsest; from the baroque transformations that were carried out in the eastern area during the reign of Louis XIV to the pillage and destruction it suffered during the French Revolution. In the middle of the 19th century, the most profound intervention was undertaken on the monument that bequeathed us the image we have known until today's tragedy. Directed by Eugène Villet-le-Duc and Jean Baptiste Antoine Lassus, in addition to the restoration work in which the stone of the flying buttresses was replaced and the roofs were repaired, a new rose window was erected on the south façade and many of the sculptural elements that adorn the cornices, including the famous gargoyles, were added.

But, in addition to its immense artistic value, its historical importance is even greater, its status as a cultural symbol; kings and Napoleon himself were crowned there. And it will remain forever in the history of literature immortalized by the pen of Victor Hugo. Let us hope that the monument can be recovered and that we can continue to look for Quasimodo among its towers and pinnacles.