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In this chapter, the area of Paris surrounding Notre-Dame is described in detail. The city itself is divided into three distinct parts, each with its own customs, privileges, and history. These parts include the City, the University, and the Town. At first glance, these three sections appear as a whole.
The church itself is part of the City and sits on an island in the middle of the River Seine. Gothic galleries are situated to the north of the cathedral, and the Palace of Bishop is to the south. An uninhabited point of the island, called the Terrain, is located on the eastern side of the cathedral; and in front of Notre-Dame, there is a fine square of old houses. Towards the south is the Palace of Justice, and nearby is the famous pillory, where criminals are put to death.
Hugo explains that the cathedral of Notre-Dame is only one of twenty-one great churches within the City. It is, however, considered to be the greatest because of its superb central location. It also has a wonderful view of Paris from the top of its towers. Because of its popularity, Notre-Dame is also the most vulnerable of the churches, susceptible to the ravages of time and man.
According to Hugo himself, "This novel is a picture of Paris and the fifteenth century and of the fifteenth century in relation to Paris. The book has no historical pretensions, except perhaps that of depicting with some degree of knowledge and conscientiousness-but only in glimpse and peeps - the state of the customs, the beliefs, the laws, the arts, in a word, the civilization of the fifteenth century."
In this chapter, Hugo gives a geographical sketch of the whole city of Paris in relation to Notre-Dame, and makes the city come alive for the reader.