The Hunchback of Notre-Dame: Novel Summary: Book III Chapter 2

In this chapter Hugo describes how Paris appeared from atop one of Notre Dames towers in the fifteenth century. He details how the city was born on the island of City or City in the Seine and how the river formed the first boundary and protection for the nascent metropolis. Two bridges, one to the north and one to the south connected the island to the mainland. Eventually the city began to spread onto the mainland both north and south and Phili-Augustus constructed a circular chain of massive towers and walls to contain and protect the population. As the town grew, however, and structures began to grow upon each other the town overspread the walls and houses and gardens began to appear outside the walls. By 1367 these suburbs were so numerous as to warrant another enclosure by Charles V. By the end of the fifteenth century that enclosure had been overrun as well. In the fifteenth century Paris was divided into three distinct areas – the City, which occupied the island, the University, which occupied the left bank and the Town, which was the largest and occupied the right bank of the Seine. The City was marked by a profusion of churches, the University by colleges and the Town by palaces. Each section had its chief officer but the provost of Paris, a royal official, had authority over all. From the towers of Notre Dame the observer noticed that among the multitude of haphazard streets two long avenues ran the length of the three districts and each had a different name in each section. Each section also had a main arterial street that ran parallel to the Seine and cut across the two avenues. Upon this grid was laid the pell-mell streets of Paris. The observer would notice that within the district of the city there were twenty-two spires of its principle churches as well as numerous small houses and other structures but all constructed with an artistic sensibility. The University portion, when viewed from Notre Dame, formed a dense whole of compact houses of uniform material and containing forty-two colleges marked by varied summits. That district was also home to several remarkable abbeys such as that of the Bernardines, Sainte-Genevieve and the Sorbonne – half abbey and half college. The ground of the University district was hilly and presented the impression of a series of buildings rising and falling against each other. The Town portion was larger and less uniform than that of the University and was marked on its eastern side by several great mansions and the massive Hotel de St. Pol in which were lodged twenty-princes and the Duke of Burgundy and the Emperor when he came to Paris. The author describes the various palaces and principle structures of the Town including the Bastille and the concentration of small houses at the point where the three bridges from the City terminated. The land-bounded side of the Town was encompassed by a long row of abbeys and various churches including St. Catherines, St. Martins and St. Denis. A the foot of the Louvre several palaces crowded the western extremity of the Town. The whole of Paris in the fifteenth century presented a homogenous aspect in that throughout its architecture were two trends, the altered Roman of its beginnings and the Gothic period that had eclipsed it. The Revival architecture had not yet intruded, the true Roman architecture had long since disappeared and the ancient Celtic was no more to be found. The author renews his lament that the Paris of his day is disappearing under a hodge-podge of styles that are shamefully supplanting the nobility of the earlier architecture. He asks the reader to imagine ascending one of the towers of the fifteenth century at dawn on a holy day and listening to the myriad bells chiming out from the thousands of churches and describes the different character of the bells from each church. “Ordinarily, the murmur that escapes from Paris in the daytime is the city talking,” he writes, “in the night it is the city breathing; but here it is the city singing.”