At 141m (463 ft.) long, this cathedral is the largest church in France. It was begun in 1220 by Robert de Luzarches and completed around 1270. Its original purpose was to house the head of St. John the Baptist, brought back from the Crusades in 1206. Two unequal towers were added later -- the south one in 1366, the north one in 1402. The renowned architect Viollet-le-Duc restored the cathedral in the 1850s.
The cathedral is the crowning example of French Gothic architecture. In John Ruskin's Bible of Amiens (1884), which Proust translated into French, he extolled the door arches. The portals of the west front are lavishly decorated, important examples of Gothic cathedral sculpture. Two galleries surmount the portals; the upper has 22 statues of kings. The large rose window is from the 16th century.
Inside are carved stalls and a Flamboyant Gothic choir screen. Local artisans made these stalls, with some 3,500 figures, in the early 16th century. Slender pillars -- 126 of them -- hold up the interior of the church, the zenith of the High Gothic in the north of France. The cathedral escaped destruction in World War II. In 1996, the Portail de la Mère-Dieu (Portal of the Mother of God), to the right of the cathedral's main entrance as you look over the facade, was restored at enormous expense.