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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > September 2016 > How Did They do That?

How Did They do That?

Paris’s Gothic masterpiece, 200 years in the making


In 12th-century Paris – wealthy and looking to boost its status on the national stage – the conditions were ripe for embracing the new, sophisticated, artistic architectural style we now call ‘Gothic’. Sitting resplendently on Île de la Cité, the natural island in the centre of Paris’s Seine, is an early example, and still one of the finest – Notre Dame Cathedral. Started by Bishop Maurice de Sully in 1163 and completed in 1345, it’s a building that’s witnessed some of the key moments in France’s history, from the coronations of Henry VI and Napoleon Bonaparte, to the rioting of the Huguenots, pillaging of the Revolution and the beatification of Joan of Arc.


Built on the site of a Roman temple, a Christian basilica and later a Romanesque church, Notre Dame was intended to pioneer the new airy, ambitious and ornate gothic style. A choir and apse, short transept and nave flanked by double aisles and square chapels, it showcases – alongside superb stained glass and sublime carving – the quintessential elements of gothic architecture – flying buttresses (added when stress fractures began appearing in the thin, high walls), pointed arches and stunning vaulted ceilings.

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September 2016 issue of History Revealed.