Adored, neglected, and restored: A 1968 Nat Geo feature explored Notre Dame

Fifty years ago, we published an ode to Paris' most famous cathedral.

“Sublime and majestic edifice,” wrote author Victor Hugo of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The medieval masterpiece, its flying buttresses and sculptures gleaming in floodlight, rises beside the Seine from the island heart of the French capital.
Photograph by Bruce Dale, Nat Geo Image Collection

In the heart of Paris, which is the heart of France, which some consider the heart of Europe, there is an island in the river Seine called La Cité. In the heart of La Cité is an expanse of pavement inappropriately called the Parvis (Old French for Paradise), and in the heart of the Parvis there is a large hole in the ground. I had an appointment there on a rain-cleansed, sunlit morning—an appointment with the first century at the bottom of a hole in Paradise.

My guide to ages past would not arrive for an hour, therefore I waited, not at the raw edge of the excavation, but 230 feet above it on the loveliest lookout Paris can provide, the south tower of Notre Dame de Paris.

Tourists of every nation climb to this vantage point. More than two million people come to Paris every year, and more of them visit the world-famous Cité than anything else in the City of Lights.

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