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Notre Dame | © Zuffe / WikiCommons
Notre Dame | © Zuffe / WikiCommons

How the French Author Victor Hugo Saved Notre Dame

Picture of Jade Cuttle
Updated: 25 February 2018

Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world. But if it wasn’t for one French literary legend, Victor Hugo, and his best-selling book then its breath-taking legacy may well have vanished forever.

The building work for Notre Dame, located right in the heart of the city in the Ile de la Cite, first started in 1163. It lasted over 170 years. The famous twin towers rise nearly 70 metres high, and entice millions of tourists each year.

However, during the French Revolution this building was completely desecrated. Much of its religious imagery damaged or destroyed. And so by July of 1801, Notre Dame was given back to the Catholic Church in a horrendous state of disarray.


Notre Dame | © Zuffe / WikiCommons

But thanks to Victor Hugo and the huge success of his book Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) the Cathedral was saved. This work  planted appreciation back in the public’s hearts.


Victor Hugo | © Étienne Carjat / Wikicommons

Victor Hugo first began writing the Notre-Dame de Paris masterpiece in 1829. The bell-ringing, half-blind hunchback of Quasimodo has become iconic  of ‘a courageous heart beneath a grotesque exterior.’ This character urges readers to look beyond the surface and find the beauty beneath, with the hope that they’ll do the same for the Notre Dame.

The descriptive sections of the book are so extended, going far beyond the requirements for the story, that his conservation efforts are clear. ‘There exists in this era, for thoughts written in stone, a privilege absolutely comparable to our current freedom of the press. It is the freedom of architecture’, he wrote in praise of its construction.

‘A universal cry must finally go up to call the new France to the aid of the old,’ he wrote in a paper entitled Guerre aux Démolisseurs (War to the Demolishers). He declared war on the ‘demolishers’ and aimed to save Paris’ medieval architecture, and the city of Paris is very glad he did.