I've never visited Paris without a trip to Notre-Dame. The candlelight, stained glass, architecture, sonorous choir, chiming bells and the history of the Gothic structure itself perpetually leave me in a state of reverence. Today though, was the first time I climbed up the 400 steps of the concrete cylindrical staircase leading to the towers. (It reminded me very much of the narrow staircase leading down into the catacombs.)
Oh, it was amazing! The gargoyles (originally used to drain rainwater) and chimeras enjoy magnificent city views from each direction. There is also access to the south tower belfry where the largest bell of the cathedral can be seen at a weight of more than 13 tons. This bell, known as "Emmanuel," is only rung on major Catholic feast days.
Invigorated by the chill of the November air on my face and the panoramic imprint of Paris in my mind, I descended the staircase and stepped back into the city streets where the melody of ringing bells slowly faded behind me.
"Admirable, however, as the Paris of the present appears to you, build up and put together again in imagination the Paris of the fifteenth century; look at the light through that surprising host of steeples, towers, and belfries; pour forth amid the immense city, break against the points of its islands, compress within the arches of the bridges, the current of the Seine, with its large patches of green and yellow, more changeable than a serpent's skin; define clearly the Gothic profile of this old Paris upon a horizon of azure, make its contour float in a wintry fog which clings to its innumerable chimneys; drown it in deep night, and observe the extraordinary play of darkness and light in this sombre labyrinth of buildings; throw into it a ray of moonlight, which shall show its faint outline and cause the huge heads of the towers to stand forth from amid the mist; or revert to that dark picture, touch up with shade the thousand acute angles of the spires and gables, and make them stand out, more jagged than a shark's jaw upon the copper-coloured sky of evening. Now compare the two."
- Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame