Notre Dame de Paris: a place symbolizing pop culture
In the heart of the Ile de la Cité, Notre-Dame de Paris, this cathedral was partly destroyed by fire on April 15, 2019. With its 14 million visitors in 2012, Notre-Dame was one of the most visited monuments in France. Beyond the simple Catholic faithful, many tourists are impressed by its beauty and architecture.
It took 182 years to complete (1163-1345). Everything at Notre-Dame is enormous: 127 m long, 48 m wide, a 60 m nave and 69 m towers. All that’s left are the standing walls after the fire. The 96-metre spire and the 21-hectare oak frame, nicknamed “the forest”, burned down.
Threatened with destruction during the French Revolution, the publication of Victor Hugo’s eponymous novel changed everything in 1831. The popular success of this 59-chapter book made people realize that it had to be saved. Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, architect, started the work in 1844. It took 20 years to restore Notre Dame.
Abbot Gringoire, Quasimodo and Esmeralda made the cathedral shine in France and around the world. Moreover, many variations were made of the work of the author of Les Misérables later on. Notre Dame became a muse in the arts and culture.
We cannot name all the works in which she appears, as they are so numerous. We have made a selection of the most relevant ones.
At the cinema, Notre-Dame Cathedral can be seen in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s wonderful film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain. Regularly the heroine’s mother takes her to the place of worship in the hope that “heaven will give her a little brother”.
In René Clément’s film Paris brûle-t-il ? two members of the Resistance raised the tricolour flag on the roof of the cathedral. This historical feature film looked back at the liberation of the capital by the allied forces eleven years after the events. In fact, it was at Notre-Dame, on 29 August 1944, that a Magnificat was sung in the presence of General de Gaulle.
Of course, Victor Hugo’s novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, inspired filmmakers. Thus, Jean Delannoy in 1956 adapted a version of it. This cult film had a dream cast: Gina Lollobrigida plays Esmeralda, Anthony Quinn Quasimodo, Alain Cuny l’abbé Frollo and Robert Hirsch Gringoire.
Seventeen years earlier, William Dieterle had signed a variation of the book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is worn by a fascinating hunchbacked Charles Laughton and a gypsy Maureen O’Hara. It was not until 1947 that the film was shown on French screens.
In the same vein as the previous film, the Disney studios offered Notre-Dame de Paris to the general public. Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, this animated feature film is the 48th of the American firm. The first fifteen minutes were created in the Walt Disney Feature Animation France studio in Montreuil. Victor Hugo’s novel was watered down for worldwide distribution.
For cinema, we can also mention Hugo Cabret (Martin Scorsese), The Devil Wears Prada (David Frankel), Ratatouille (Brad Bird) or Before Sunset (Richard Linklater).
The cathedral is also a main character in TV series. One of the paving stones in the square serves as a hiding place for the pen containing sensitive information belonging to Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack), the hero of Perception, a series on the American channel TNT.
At the same place but in the French series Jo (season 1, episode 1), Johan Van Vliet, organist, is found dead. Jo Saint-Clair (Jean Reno), a police officer from 36 quai des Orfèvres, was then assigned to the investigation.
The music is not to be outdone around the cathedral. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys listens to the bells of the monument on Sunday mornings in Belles of Paris, a song written in 1978. These same bumblebees were sung by Léo Ferré in 1953.
Björn Ulvaeus from the group Abba remembers his teenage love affair in front of the place of worship in Our last summer in 1980. The same title appears in the film Mamma Mia! directed by Phyllida Lloyd.
“Dans le Paris de Notre-Dame, De Notre-Dame de Paris, Y a un clochard qu’en a plein le dos, De porter Notre-Dame sur son dos, Il se prend pour Quasimodo”, is the beginning of the song interpreted by Edith Piaf, composed by Eddy Marnay and Marc Heyral. This famous tune by the Môme was written in 1952.
In the album as far as the eye can see in 1994, Alain Bashung evokes the cathedral: “Un âne plane, Autour des tours de Notre-Dame, Un âne clame son existence, Avant qu’elle ne se fane”. The surrealist poet thus speaks of the donkey that hovers, of thrown rice and of whitening gargoyles.
Finally, the Stolen Car clip of the duo Sting-Mylène Farmer, we see Notre-Dame in the background several times. The love waltz of the two performers also takes place in the sewers of Paris and in a beautiful car.
When it comes to comic books, Notre Dame looks good. She appears in La Foire aux immortels, Enki Bilal’s masterpiece. In the first volume of the Nikopol trilogy, the candidates selected to participate in the elections are presented by Pope Theodulus I in the church.
In 1194, the construction of the cathedral continued. We discover this moment in book 1 of the series Le Roy des ribauds by Ronan Thoulhoat and Vincent Brugeas. King Philippe Auguste comes to inspect the work in the first pages of the comic book published in 2015.
In number 143 of The Amazing Spider-Man, J. Jonah Jameson is imprisoned in Notre Dame. Robbie and the Spider-Man then ignore this information about their boss. This 1976 episode was written by Ross Andru and Gerry Conway.
One can also note, L’Autoroute sauvage (Mathieu Masmondet and Zhang Xioyou) or Fantastic Four of Marvel having for theater, the cathedral.
To continue our selection, let’s look at literature. If Victor Hugo’s novel is the main piece, L’envers de l’histoire contemporaine by Honoré de Balzac holds a special place. The writer places his plot close to the place of worship and defines one of his characters, Jean-Jules Popinot as the vicar of the cathedral.
Not far from the monument, Adele sleeps in her room. She’s the only one who can help the Weed Dangerous Zeefirottes. In 2006, Claude Ponti, the star of children’s books, unveiled La nuit des Zéfirottes, an impressive and teeming tale.
Vango must be running from the police. Charged with a crime he didn’t commit, he’s a mobster. In the book of the same name as the hero, Timothée de Fombelle set the beginning of his story on the forecourt in 1934.
As you can see, Notre Dame has gone through the years in the literary world. One could add a multitude of works of art decorated in this place. As Gérard de Nerval says: “Notre-Dame is very old: perhaps we will see her, burying however Paris that she saw being born” in his poem, perhaps men from all over the world will come “to contemplate this austere ruin”, “this heavy carcass”, “to rise before them like the shadow of a dead man”.
In the cultural field, let’s not forget the great painters inspired by the place, notably Jacques-Louis David, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau and Marc Chagall. Finally, in 2014, in the video game Assassin’s Creed Unity taking place during the French Revolution, players can climb the monument. Many tributes were paid to the monument by gammers in this way during the fire that ravaged it on 15 April 2019.
Notre-Dame de Paris is centuries old. She’s seen a lot of obstacles in her path. She will rise from her ashes like a phoenix. She’ll never die, not physically or in her heart.
The Fantrippers Buying Board
Map of 100 cult places in Marseille [French Edition]
Marseille as you have never seen it before. Except through the legendary heroes and heroines of pop culture! Get off the beaten track and discover the city of Marseille through your favorite movies, series, music, comics, novels and video games!
Interest for fans
Value for money
By Anthony Thibault
From the "Casimir generation", Anthony has kept (in addition to a passion for Goldorak) a taste for inventive images, experimentation and curiosity. Passionate about travel and pop culture, he co-founded Fantrippers with Nicolas Albert to share his passion with as many people as possible.