I posted about the history and architecture of Notre Dame. It is part of Paris‘ cultural and religious lifeblood. It’s huge, historic, and imposing. I was surprised to find pockets of warmth, small details and intimacy when we visited during a mass.
Notre Dame is a huge Gothic masterpiece. Built in the middle ages (construction started in 1163), it has seen a lot. It survived the French Revolution, allegedly housed the Crown of Thorns, saw many coronations including Napoleons and inspired Victor Hugo‘s story of a hunchbacked bell-ringer (Quasimodo), The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Construction began in 12th century. Two centuries passed before it was competed in 1345, spanning almost the entire Gothic period. At the time, it was an engineering feat; it was one of the world’s first buildings to use “flying buttress” (the support arches attached to the exterior at the garden end of the cathedral that help support the weight of the enormous roof).
The church is known for its size. It is massive and can hold 6000. It is also known for its large stained glass rose window. Like an idiot, I used to look for pink in rose windows. It was awhile before I learned that rose window is a generic term applied to the large circular windows, particularly those found in Gothic churches. They are divided into segments by stone mullions and tracery, the color pink is in no way a prerequisite. Go figure.
I was especially smitten with the hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of humorous gargoyles. The rooftop has amazing views of the city, but we were with older family who couldn’t make the trip up the stairs. Please feel free to comment and tell us what we missed.
When I visited Champagne, I had to stop by and see the cathedral in Reims. I’d heard so much about it and had to see it in person. Yeah, from a distance, it might look a lot like many other French cathedrals, but this one is different. It’s beautiful, light and airy, but that’s only scratching the surface. It’s fascinating because of its dramatic history.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is considered by many to be the world’s most perfect Gothic church. Located in eastern France (an hour or so away from the WWI battlefield of Verdun), it was almost completely destroyed during the First World War. On September 19-20, 1914, 25 German shells struck the cathedral which then caught on fire, causing massive damage. It became known as the “Martyred Cathedral” a symbol of destruction during the Great War and brought out strong emotions in the French. Strong emotions are an understatement. Several injured German prisoners found refuge in the cathedral but were killed outraged French.
In 1924, billionaire American John D. Rockefeller, gave money to restore the cathedral. Fabulously wealthy Andrew Carnegie kicked in some money too. Today, it’s mostly restored, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely worth the few million they poured into it.
Reims has been a town since Roman times. In 498, Clovis was baptized as the first Catholic French king at the church. This was a big deal. If you don’t believe me, Pope John Paul II visited for the 1500th anniversary of the event. I can pretty much guarantee that no world leader will mark the 1500th anniversary of anything I have done or anywhere I have been. Monkey see, monkey do. All the cool kings wanted to do it like Clovis did and it became the site for coronations of French kings (until the revolution). Joan of Arc famously knelt in front of Charles VII when he was crowned King of France there. Today, they have a Gallery of Kings, statues of the famous kings who were crowned there.
In 1211, when the existing church burned down, the built a bigger better one on the site of an earlier church (just like Geneva’s Cathedral St. Pierre). Part of what makes Reims Cathedral such an amazing building is the amount of light inside (particularly in comparison with others constructed around the same time). The architects designed the windows so that they would let in as much light as possible.
Notre-Dame de Reims did not escape the French Revolution unscathed. Fleur-de-lys and clovers were removed because they had been symbols of the monarchy. They were replaced during the restoration. Thanks Mr. Rockefeller.
Large circular windows at the ends of the cathedrals are known as the “Rose Window.” It took me a few cathedrals to figure that one out. Luckily, we’ve seen a few this year (Toledo, Milan). The church is known throughout France for its impressive stained glass windows. During the restoration, some more contemporary have been used. I like the one depicting Champagne making from the 1950’s. Who would have thought church windows would depict hooch? The windows designed by Marc Chagall from the 1970’s (above) were my favorites because they were ethereal and dreamy. You wouldn’t expect something so massive to look so light. They plan on continuing with the different windows, making it interesting to for visitors compare and contrast the different styles.
By the way, if you go there, hunt out the “Smiling Angel” (also known as “Smile of Reims” and “L’Ange au Sourire”). Decapitated by a burning beam in 1914,, during the fire of September 19, 1914 it the destruction and then with the restoration of the city.
My favorite part about visiting the Duomo was the rooftop. I’ve been to cathedral’s (like Strasbourg) where you can visit the bell tower, but I don’t know of any where you can visit the roof. The Duomo’s is filled with statues (there are over 135 spires and 10x more statues), making the rooftop a sort of sculpture gallery with a stellar view of the city.
We always try to take the stairs, so we bought a ticket for the stairs instead of the elevator. On a 35-degree day, it was an economically good, but exceptionally hot choice. With views like these, who cares?
All of the statues are different. Many of the ones that depict martyred saints were a bit gory.
The perspective was fascinating. It was like walking through a forest of spires and statues. I don’t like open heights, but there was no way I was missing this!
I’m a huge fan of stopping by to see something while en route somewhere else. On our way from Colmar to Bad Kreuznach, we stopped by Strasbourg. While we only had an hour to walk around the town, we managed to catch some of the touristic highlights.
Strasbourg is known for its river. As we walked along the water, we studied the canals. Le Barrage Vauban (Vauban Dam) was built in 1681. The flood gates could be closed and the southern edge of the city flooded, in the event of an attack. They do boat tours that looked pretty cool. When we found the landing, a tour bus full of people moving none too quickly was boarding the boat. We didn’t wait around for the next one.
Le Petite France is an appealing neighborhood situated on islands. The half-timbered houses date from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was impossible to miss the flavor of German culture that permeated the area. This area gets decked out during the holidays for the annual Christmas Market.
Strasbourg’s gigantic gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg, was built in the 11th and 12th centuries (although the 142 meter high spire was not finished until 1439). It is the sixth-tallest church in the world! I felt ant-sized next to it.
It is impressive. Describing the exterior as ornate is an understatement. The stone is so elaborate that it is almost lace-like. Its stained glass windows (the Rose window in particular) are considered showstoppers. Aficionados of churches are impressed by the giant organ, Gothic pulpit and astronomical clock. We didn’t have time to climb the steps to the top of the bell tower to enjoy the view. Zut Alors!
Strasbourg has long been a capital of the region. It was bitterly fought over and changed hands between France and Germany five times between 1870 and 1945. The Council of Europe is also located here. For these reasons and its convenient central location) it was chosen as the location for the European Parliament. This is as close as we got. Again, sorry.
Founded in 1157, Fribourg was a sovereign republic until it joined the Swiss Confederation in 1481. Fribourg sits in a valley between lakes and mountains with the Saane river (Sarine in French) flowing through it. It is a gorgeous setting, but this is Switzerland, where picturesque settings abound. We’ve gotten accustomed to the incredible beauty and now almost expect it. Fribourg did not disappoint.
Fribourg isn’t large (population 40,000), but is charming. It is home to the University of Fribourg. This gives the city a slightly more cosmopolitan atmosphere and the vibrancy of a university town. It’s medieval neighborhoods are well-preserved and charming. The buildings show a blend of French and German Swiss culture.
Fribourg is known for its beautiful Gothic buildings. Its old patrician townhouses combine German baroque and French classicism. They have tons of detail, from stone carvings to ornate doors, to places to scrape your shoes. Architectural buffs and home decor enthusiasts will love them.
Wander the small, steep streets and medieval staircases. If you get tired, you can easily stop at a cafe in one of its many cobblestoned squares adorned with fountains. Fribourg also has a funicular for those less enthusiastic about urban hiking.
Walk across Fribourg’s beautiful bridges. The Pont de Berne, is a well-preserved covered wooden bridge dating from 1580. The solid, yet elegant, Central Bridge links the old town with opposing cliffs.
Crossing the river and climbing the hill on the opposite side yields stunning views of Fribourg’s Old Town. The St. Nicholas‘s Cathedral lofty 15th-century Gothic bell tower is also easily visible on the skyline.
The city hall’s (Hôtel de Ville) gothic clock tower dates from 1546 (the blue pointy thing). On Wednesdays, the square in front of city hall houses a market. The nearby Rue de Lausanne is a car-free pedestrian zone.
Fribourg is not just the name of the city. It is also the name of the canton (like the state). The canton of Fribourg is bilingual with the Saane river (Sarine in French) forming the language boundary. On one side, they speak French, on the other, Swiss German. All road signs in the Canton are bilingual!
Fribourg is the French speaking of the city. Freiburg is the German spelling, but is not commonly used to avoid confusion with the German town of Freiburg.
It is worth taking at least an afternoon to wander Fribourg’s streets. We plan on returning to spend an evening there.