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“Sheer scale”
Review of Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral
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Chartres Old Town and Cathedral Tour from Paris
Ranked #1 of 25 things to do in Chartres
Certificate of Excellence
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Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Owner description: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its high-Gothic art and architectural style.
Reviewed December 8, 2014

Amazing building and of course, splendid windows ! Obviously undergoing a lot of restauration and to be honest, not sure whether the "old" look was not more appropriate : the choir looks a bit fake !

Date of experience: December 2014
Thank QBPhil
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed December 7, 2014

In a way, my first trip to France was to visit this cathedral. It has the oldest collection of original stained glass in Europe. It is a classic example of Gothic architecture. It's stunning.

As you approach the town of Chartres, the cathedral still rises above the city much as it did when it was originally built. The interior of the cathedral itself is not lit with modern lights in the same was as Notre Dame de Paris is lit, as there are fewer tourists, and thus less money. That lack of modernity throws you further back into the Middle Ages, when the only light was from candles and the sun, and parishioners stood through the service.

Definitely read up on the cathedral before you go - the art and history in this building are astounding. And you might not remember to look at your feet in the dim light, and miss the labyrinth in the floor.

Date of experience: January 2014
Thank LorisReviews
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 3, 2014

Best viewing of the sublime glass window is on sunny day at 4:30 to 5:00 near sundown! Size is overwhelming inside and out of the 13th century cathedral...don't miss this masterpiece. Enjoy a service too...very impressive as are the sculptures, windows, and Gothic architecture. A must visit in France! Don't miss the maze....

Date of experience: November 2014
Thank barefootsusyq
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 3, 2014

the cathedral has a long history and is interesting. Walk the labrynth on Friday mornings between April to October

Date of experience: October 2014
Thank johnm2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed December 2, 2014

As of 2 December 2014, here's the status of the renovations:

They have now largely finished (1) the façade and front entry and (2) everything from the altar to the back of the church, including the choir and chapels. That means two of the most important religious (and tourist) parts of the church -- the relic of the Madonna's veil and Our Lady of the Pillar -- are both open to the public as usual. The (controversial) renovation has decided to restore the original polychrome of the church, and the colors are extremely surprising. The choir area looks practically brand new. Even Our Lady of the Pillar, long known as the "Black Madonna" of Chartres, has been cleaned of the soot that made it black and restored to its original bright colors.

They have not started work on the transepts, which remain deep grey with soot. The contrast between the before of the transepts and the after of the adjacent chapels is very dramatic.

They are currently working on the nave. They have enclosed several of the main pillars along the center aisle in scaffolding, but the side aisles are open. The organ remains covered (and silent) to protect it from dust. I had the opportunity to have a private tour, and the guide told me work is expected to continue in the nave for at least another year. The official government website on the renovations (see below) says the provisional plans call for two more years.

Conclusions: This is the most visitor-friendly state the cathedral has been in since the renovations started years ago. Nothing important from a tourist perspective is closed. However, if you care about seeing the chapels with the relic of the veil and Our Lady of the Pillar, it would important to check the status of renovations to determine if work on the transepts (when they get there) blocks access to the chapels again.

If you're interested in architectural renovation: This is a must-see project, and now is the perfect time to see it. The contrast of the work in progress between the chapels and transepts is so dramatic it's hard to imagine and worth a trip. I care nothing about renovation as a topic and I'm very glad I saw it. Someone who's interested in renovation would be fascinated.

If you're in the Paris area: Definitely worth visiting. I've been coming to Chartres regularly for decades, and this is the most like its usual "self" it's been in years. That said, it's not in the state that made it famous, and you don't get the full experience visiting during the renovations. The scaffolding in the middle of the nave blocks the sight lines of the church and destroys the impact that walking through the front door was designed to provide. Plus the renovations are very noisy and the meditative silence that is an important aspect of the experience is gone. (Of course, that's true in July, too.) Chartres is at maybe 80% of itself, which is still a powerful experience, but it's not all it can be.

If you're planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip and want to see Chartres: I'd wait until it's done. The difference between great (now) and awesome (usually) is big. I've seen almost every major cathedral in France and most of the ones in Europe, but even so, the first time I walked through the doors at Chartres I stopped dead in my tracks and gasped. That experience is worth waiting for, and it's not there now.

To get info on the renovations:

The Chartres Cathedral website (which has an English version) provides a calendar of activities at the cathedral, listed by date (most recent at the top) under the Cathedral Weekly tab. The far right hand column of that calendar provides day-to-day info on what's happening with the renovations. Unfortunately for English speakers, even the English website provides the French calendar. But if you're willing to type the info in that Restauration column into an online translator, it'll tell you what's going on. French for "we're working on the nave" is Travaux de la Nef, which you can expect to see in that column for a long time. Echafaudage is scaffolding.

The governmental body responsible for the renovations, the Ministry of Culture www.culturecommunication.gouv.fr, and the particular division responsible, the DRAC (Region Centre), have set up a page on the Chartres Cathedral renovations at http://www.culturecommunication.gouv.fr/Regions/Drac-Centre/Nos-secteurs-d-activite/Monuments-historiques/Maitrise-d-ouvrage-des-travaux-sur-les-monuments-de-l-Etat/Chartres-28-Cathedrale-Notre-Dame. Downside for English speakers is that there's no English page so it's not particularly friendly to people who aren't comfortable in French, and it doesn't show up on English language searches for info. The Chartres page does, however, have some good photos and a video that might be interesting to non-French speakers. There's an excellent photo of the current scaffolding in the nave so you can see exactly what it looks like. That photo also gives you a feel for the dramatic difference in color between the restored pillars and the not yet started black walls next to them.

In summary: I love Chartres, go often, and even when she's under the weather and getting work done she's amazing. But she's not her usual self now, and won't be for a couple of more years. But when renovations are done -- it'll be something no one has seen for nearly a thousand years. Can't wait.

Date of experience: December 2014
8  Thank pubwri
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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