Many people, myself included, are surprised when they find out that the ancient looking famous gargoyles at the top of Notre-Dame are actually only 150 years old. The cathedral of Notre-Dame underwent restoration in 1843 to 1864 and the gargoyles were designed, sculpted and installed during this time. They represent what in those days people thought the middle ages must have been like.
The word gargoyle comes from a latin word meaning gullet or drain. Each figure has a drain inside it that diverts the rain water from the cathedral’s roof through the gargoyles and out of their mouths away from the cathedral, thereby protecting it. There seems to be no definitive answer as to how many gargoyles there actually are. I have seen figures in the hundreds and some sites claim there are thousands. The difficulty comes from the fact that many people cannot agree if you count the gargoyle figures on the sides of the building, on the facades, as well as those on the towers. So, let’s just go with “there are a lot of them”.
To have a close encounter with these strange stoney beasts you need to climb 387 steps. Be warned, there are not many places to stop and rest on the way up and the staircase is fairly tiny in places. The entrance to the towers is on the outside of the cathedral along the left side as you face the front entrance. I am not a very fit person, but with a steady slow step even I managed it, and I am so glad I did. A good pair of shoes with a good tread is a must, as the steps are worn out and if it is raining, could be a little slippery with all the people going up and down. The cost for the tower climb is 8.50 Euros, which is covered by the Museum Pass.
Let’s divert for a moment and talk about the Museum Pass. If you plan on being in Paris any more than one day and want to visit the Louvre, Versailles, or any of the other museums and attractions, your best money and time-saving item to buy is the Paris Museum Pass. The pass is available for 2, 4 or 6 days, gives you free entry to over 60 museums and attractions in and around Paris and a 2 day pass only costs you 42 Euros. At many places having a museum pass gives you the opportunity to bypass the long ticket lines. A word of advice, if you travel with children under the age of 18, most museums and attractions have free entry for children and a museum pass is not necessary. For even more information visit the official website.
Back to the climb up the towers. On the day we visited the line up was half way down the side of the cathedral, but the line moved reasonably fast despite the fact that they will only let so many people up at any given time. Your first stop is between the towers where you will meet the gargoyles. Again, there is not a lot of space up there and you have to squeeze yourself around the corners. From there you climb further up the south tower, which will give you fantastic views over Paris. This area is even smaller than the previous stop and you may have to wait a little bit before you are allowed to climb back down the stairs, to ensure the staircase is not full of people climbing up, as there is no way you would ever have enough room to pass each other. Thankfully the guards on either end and in between have two-way radios to ensure this up and down procedure goes very smooth.