A Gothic building constructed during Medieval times, Notre-Dame-de-Paris cathedral is home to a number of sculptures, including many gargoyles. Discover the surprising, fabulous, and legendary gargoyles of Notre-Dame-de-Paris during your visit! Follow along in the footsteps of old masters, from the builders and stonecutters of the Middle Ages to the extraordinary writer Victor Hugo.
Gargoyles and chimeras watching over Notre-DameIf you've ever walked up to Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, you've definitely noticed funny-looking, fantastical sculptures within the rich decor of the cathedral's different facades, nestles between flying buttresses and pinnacles. The gargoyles and other chimeras are an essential part of the history of the cathedral, and a key aspect of the site.
The gargoyles' main purpose is very practical. As rain water runs down the roofs of Notre-Dame de Paris, it needs to drain off without dripping down the walls and potentially damaging them. By evacuating rain water, the gargoyles protect the cathedral and protect the stone from damage caused by excessive runoff. That is in fact the main difference between gargoyles and chimeras. The former serve to drain rainwater, the latter are purely decorative.
The gargoyles not only protect the building from temperamental weather, by preventing water from dripping to close to the walls. they also provide the site with symbolic protection. Often frightening in some aspects, they represent monsters inspired by fantastic bestiaries, wild or domestic beasts, and even mankind. These monsters keep demons and evil forces away from the sacred walls that protect the community of churchgoers, by scaring them away. They also have a purifying role, since they digest unclean water and wastewater and keep it away from the walls.
Their strange and mythical appearances have inspired artists, who saw within them fabulous creatures and incorporated them into their work. Victor Hugo, for example, gives gargoyles a prominent role in his novel. Notre Dame de Paris. Their apparent ugliness, as well as their role as saviors, recalls the hunchbacked Quasimodo.
So when you visit the île de la Cité, or when you stand on the forecourt of Notre Dame, look up towards the sky and admire the gargoyles, solitary and silent guardians of the building, who have outlasted human turpitude, wars, and bad weather for centuries.