Gargoyle on Notre Dame – www.photosfan.com
While Paris is the perfect city for aimless ambling, there is a time and a place for directed exploration. Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of taking Context Tours’ “Art and Architecture of Gothic Paris” walk. While Context always keeps their tour groups small (usually 6 people max.), I was fortunate enough to have the tour all to myself, and—as is typical of Context tours— the docent was happy to customize the experience to my specific areas of interest.
My docent was able to share incredible insight into both the history of Parisian architecture and its evolution over time, emphasizing his belief that “when we study the architectural development of a city, we can understand the city itself.” This theme was quite evident as we strolled around the Ile de le Cité, and my Context docent outlined Paris’ Gaulois history and then peeled back the layers of the rise of gothic architecture.
The tour took us from Sainte Chapelle to the Conciergerie (where Marie Antoinette was housed before her execution at the Place de la Concorde) to the nearby Place Dauphine and culminated at Paris’ towering Notre Dame cathedral. My guide’s ability to weave social history into our discussion brought much of the architecture to life. From the effect of the French Revolution on Paris’ gothic architecture to the layout of the city itself, Paris’ physical landscape reflects the incremental changes in the city’s social and political context over time.
As we gazed up at Notre Dame’s whimsical gargoyles and noted the morning light through the stained glass at Sainte Chapelle, it was quite evident that each and every corner of Paris contains a story.
While I am generally a huge proponent of aimless wandering, it certainly helps to have an expert on hand. The “Art & Architecture of Gothic Paris” tour lasts roughly 3 hours and takes place on the Ile de la Cité. The tour is €75 per person or €270 for a private group tour.
Those seeking to deepen their knowledge on a variety of subjects would do well to browse through Context’s many Paris “walks” which cover themes such as art, archaeology, cuisine, shopping, and theology.
For more information, visit Context Tours.