Notre-Dame was constructed between 1163 and 1334, and the amount of time and money spent on it reflected the city's growing prestige. The west front remains a high point of Gothic art for the balanced proportions of its twin towers and rose window, and the three doorways with their rows of saints and sculpted tympanums: the Last Judgement (centre), Life of the Virgin (left) and Life of St Anne (right). Inside, take a moment to admire the long nave with its solid foliate capitals and high altar with a marble Pietà by Coustou.
The cathedral was plundered during the French Revolution, then rededicated to the cult of Reason. The original statues of the Kings of Judah from the west front were torn down by the mob (who thought they represented the kings of France) and rediscovered during the construction of a car park in 1977. By the 19th-century, 'Our Lady' was looking pretty shabby.
Victor Hugo, whose novel Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) had been a great success, led the campaign for its restoration. But the man behind the building work was architect Viollet-le-Duc. To truly appreciate his masonry, climb up the towers. The route runs up the north tower and down the south. Between the two you get a close-up view of his gallery of chimeras - the fantastic birds and hybrid beasts designed along the balustrade. After a detour to see the Bourdon (the massive bell Quasimodo rang in Hugo's novel), a staircase leads to the top of the south tower where the views are utterly breathtaking.