The Hunchback of Notre Dame HTML version

2. A Bird's-Eye View Of Paris
We have just attempted to restore, for the reader's benefit, that admirable church
of Notre-Dame de Paris. We have briefly pointed out the greater part of the
beauties which it possessed in the fifteenth century, and which it lacks to-day; but
we have omitted the principal thing,--the view of Paris which was then to be
obtained from the summits of its towers.
That was, in fact,--when, after having long groped one's way up the dark spiral
which perpendicularly pierces the thick wall of the belfries, one emerged, at last
abruptly, upon one of the lofty platforms inundated with light and air,--that was, in
fact, a fine picture which spread out, on all sides at once, before the eye; a
spectacle sui generis, of which those of our readers who have had the good
fortune to see a Gothic city entire, complete, homogeneous,--a few of which still
remain, Nuremberg in Bavaria and Vittoria in Spain,--can readily form an idea; or
even smaller specimens, provided that they are well preserved,--Vitré in Brittany,
Nordhausen in Prussia.
The Paris of three hundred and fifty years ago--the Paris of the fifteenth century--
was already a gigantic city. We Parisians generally make a mistake as to the
ground which we think that we have gained, since Paris has not increased much
over one-third since the time of Louis XI. It has certainly lost more in beauty than
it has gained in size.
Paris had its birth, as the reader knows, in that old island of the City which has
the form of a cradle. The strand of that island was its first boundary wall, the
Seine its first moat. Paris remained for many centuries in its island state, with two
bridges, one on the north, the other on the south; and two bridge heads, which
were at the same time its gates and its fortresses,--the Grand-Châtelet on the
right bank, the Petit-Châtelet on the left. Then, from the date of the kings of the
first race, Paris, being too cribbed and confined in its island, and unable to return
thither, crossed the water. Then, beyond the Grand, beyond the Petit-Châtelet, a
first circle of walls and towers began to infringe upon the country on the two sides
of the Seine. Some vestiges of this ancient enclosure still remained in the last
century; to-day, only the memory of it is left, and here and there a tradition, the
Baudets or Baudoyer gate, "Porte Bagauda".
Little by little, the tide of houses, always thrust from the heart of the city
outwards, overflows, devours, wears away, and effaces this wall. Philip Augustus
makes a new dike for it. He imprisons Paris in a circular chain of great towers,
both lofty and solid. For the period of more than a century, the houses press
upon each other, accumulate, and raise their level in this basin, like water in a
reservoir. They begin to deepen; they pile story upon story; they mount upon
each other; they gush forth at the top, like all laterally compressed growth, and
there is a rivalry as to which shall thrust its head above its neighbors, for the sake
of getting a little air. The street glows narrower and deeper, every space is
overwhelmed and disappears. The houses finally leap the wall of Philip
Augustus, and scatter joyfully over the plain, without order, and all askew, like
runaways. There they plant themselves squarely, cut themselves gardens from