With its history, inspiring architecture and beautiful stained-glass windows, it is no wonder that Chartres Cathedral is one of the most popular tourist attractions in France along with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Located less than 100 kilometers outside of Paris, Chartres Cathedral is considered a masterpiece of French gothic architecture, a style that it shares with other cathedrals in France including the famed Notre Dame Cathedral.
As you approach the town of Chartres, you will notice two spires towering above the medieval city's roofs. They belong to the two imposing towers of Chartres Cathedral.
The site of the present Chartres Cathedral France has hosted no fewer than four other cathedrals that were destroyed by fire. One of the most devastating fires occurred when lighting struck the Chartres Cathedral in 1194. According to legend, the town's people panicked as an ancient relic – the Sancta Camisia, a tunic of the Virgin Mary – was supposed to be inside. Luckily, priests were able to save the precious artifact. This was declared to be an auspicious sign, and it was decided that an even more glorious cathedral should be built on the site. Townspeople were so eager to help with the construction of Chartres Cathedral that many volunteered to haul the heavy stones located in quarries that were five miles away. The soaring structure, which took less than 30 years to build, incorporated the ancient Royal Portal, which survived the 1194 fire and dates back to the 1140's.
One of the main design features of the exterior of Chartres Cathedral France is its numerous flying buttresses. This structural feature is used to accommodate the enormous windows that are located on the inside of Chartres Cathedral. When you step inside its doors, you will note that the upper walls of the choir and nave are composed almost entirely of glass.
The light spilling into the Chartres Cathedral comes from its stained-glass windows which date back as far as the early 13th century. Chartres Cathedral is said to contain one of the world's most comprehensive collections of medieval stained glass. The cathedral was originally fitted with 186 windows. During the Second World War, the stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral France were actually removed and hidden from harm in the French countryside. Today, you'll be able to see the 152 that have survived. One of the most stunning features of the Chartres Cathedral stained glass is its vibrant blue colour which can be fully appreciated by viewing the Blue Virgin window. It is these beautiful windows that help to make the cathedral one of the most popular tourist attractions in France.
Another design feature that makes Chartres Cathedral one of the most popular tourist attractions in France is its labyrinth. Embedded in the pavement of the cathedral's nave, this superb labyrinth is about forty feet across and was walked by pilgrims and monks as a means of contemplation or repentance. Divided into four quadrants, pilgrims would walk its meandering path, gradually moving closer to the center and then away again until finally reaching the rosette design as its center.
Admission to Chartres Cathedral is free of charge. The Cathedral is open daily from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm.