I have lived in Paris for just over six years and over that time have become familiar with the sound of ringing bells coming from Notre Dame de Paris. But until recently I had never actually recorded this daily sonic signature of the French capital.
Notre Dame de Paris, which translates as Our Lady of Paris, is a medieval Catholic cathedral located on the Île de la Cité in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. Built in classic French Gothic architectural style, Notre Dame is famous around the world. Construction began in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII and the cathedral was fully completed by 1345. Extensive restoration has taken place over the years, including significant work in the 1790s after having suffered desecration during the French Revolution.
Notre Dame cathedral has 10 bells each one given a name. The largest, Emmanuel, is located in the south tower and weighs 13271 kg. Emmanuel is tolled to mark the hours of the day as well as for various occasions and services and is always rung first, at least 5 seconds before the rest.
In early 2012 the four old bells in the north tower were removed as part of a €2 million project. A new set of 8 bells were cast by the same Cornille-Havard foundry in Normandy that had cast the four in 1856. Also part of the upgrade, a much larger bell called Marie was cast in Asten, Netherlands by Royal Eijsbouts. This larger bell now hangs with Emmanuel in the south tower. The 9 new bells, which were delivered to the cathedral on 31 January 2013 are designed to replicate the quality and tone of the cathedral’s original bells.
In all honesty, I cannot tell the difference between the old bells pre-2013 and the new bells. But what is certain is just how majestic Paris sounds when the bells of Notre Dame ring out. The following recording was taken late afternoon on a Saturday, just before the evening mass.
Finding a quiet, isolated location at Notre Dame is pretty much impossible. There are always tourists here to visit the cathedral, and it is located close to some of the main boulevards so traffic noise can be an issue. I had originally tried to set my mics up in the gardens just outside the cathedral, which is an isolated location. But security these days is very strict in Paris and I was quickly asked what I was doing, and then told to pack up my gear and move on. So I had to settle for recording on the pavement next to the cathedral. The position was good as I was quite close to the bell towers, but we do hear the odd car pass by as well as people walking along.