The original title of Victor Hugo’s blockbuster novel included the year, 1482. He chose that year because it was still in the Middle Ages but was a year without any outstanding historical events that might have interfered with his story.
Many of the crucial scenes of the novel (known in English as “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”) take place in the upper reaches of the cathedral, up in the towers and galleries. Up there the fanatical priest Claude Frollo had his secret cubicle where he studied forbidden books about alchemy and where he received a mysterious cloaked visitor who turned out to be King Louis XI.
From up on the galleries Claude Frollo observed Esmeralda dancing and playing her tambourine in the square below, beginning his infatuation and deadly obsession with her.
Up there was where Quasimodo, the hunchback, carried Esmeralda after saving her temporarily from the hangman, and where he hid her in a secret room and supplied her with food and water. From up on the galleries Quasimodo repelled an invasion by hundreds of outlaws by pouring molten lead on them. Because he was deaf from years of bell-ringing up in the towers he didn’t understand that the outlaws were coming to save Esmeralda, not to hang her.
From a vantage point up on the galleries Claude Frollo laughed insanely as he watched Esmeralda finally being hung on the gallows below, until the horrified Quasimodo pushed him off and he fell to his death.
The young man on the book cover is Victor Hugo in 1829 at age twenty-seven, shortly before he began writing Notre-Dame de Paris.
While the novel was (and still is) a huge popular success, the same cannot be said for the opera La Esmeralda, with music by Louise Bertin (1805-1877) to a libretto by Victor Hugo himself. The opera premiered in Paris in 1836 but was poorly received, and was withdrawn after only six performances.
The 14th century carvings around the outside of the choir in Notre-Dame show scenes from the life of Christ.
A model shows how they built the cathedral from 1163 to 1345, using lots of muscle-power but also hand-cranked winches to help them lift the heavy stones.
It is possible to climb the towers of the cathedral of Notre-Dame, but it might involve a long wait in the sun before you can get in.
My photos in this post are from 2012 and 2013. I revised the text in 2017.