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Notre Dame (“Our Lady”) is a cathedral of superlatives. It is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture on Earth. It is also one of the best-known cathedrals in the world, and at nearly 60,000 square feet, one of the largest. Built from 1163 to 1345, it was one of the first buildings to employ flying buttresses—not part of the original design but added as stress fractures began to appear during construction. The cathedral has 10 bells, each named. It was the largest, Emmanuel, that tolled on the night of August 24, 1944, to announce the liberation of Paris during World War II.

As one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris, the wait to go inside or up the bell towers can be a very, very long one. Because of security checks, Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle are two of the places where a Paris Pass or Paris Museum Pass will not provide a skip-the-line benefit. An early arrival time is recommended.

When viewed from a distance, many of the architectural details are missed, such as the structure's delicate filigree and the row of 28 statues (bottom of the photo) representing the kings of Israel.

One of three elaborately carved portals on the western facade.

Notre Dame's famous gargoyles help to divert rainwater away from the foundation. The architect Eugene Violet-le-Duc playfully added his own image for one of them (not shown). The chimeras, on the other hand (sometimes erroneously referred to as gargoyles), represent guardian demons intended to scare Medieval church-goers into good behavior.

No doubt about it, Notre Dame is an architectural masterpiece that dominates the Île de la Cité of Paris.

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