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Notre Dame de Paris: restoration after the fire?

Posted on April 17, 2019 by Hailey in

A terrible fire just consumed Notre-Dame-de-Paris, one of the most prestigious historical monuments in the world and symbol of the French heritage. Let’s go back again onto what tragically happened that night and let’s hope together to see intact the Towers and Spire rise in the Parisian sky again.

Notre Dame cathedral, an exceptional medieval monument

The emotion after the fire is still tremendous all around the globe. The historical, architectural and symbolic value of Notre Dame is unique, and this terrible night marked the loss of an irreplaceable legacy.  

The cathedral is one of the most successful examples of the medieval gothic architecture in Europe. The construction of Notre Dame, which was initiated during the second half of the XIIth century, lasted several decades. Indeed, it required almost one hundred years for the structure to get its final physiognomy.

The stain-glass windows and the large Notre Dame rose, or the Rose Sud (South Rose), the gargoyles and the statues, the objects linked to the adoration of God and to the Mass, the relics all contribute to the prestige of the place. Considered as more than a building, the cathedral remains an active place of worship today. Alongside believers, nearly 13 million tourists enter the cathedral every year, which makes Notre Dame the most visited historical monument in Europe. People come to admire the Towers from the church square, and the panoramic view on Paris from the Towers, the stain-glass windows from the inside and the marvellous Trésor, composed of exceptional liturgical objects.

Tragical fire on April 15th 2019

Since July 2018, the cathedral had been undergoing major restauration works. These works, the most ambitious in decades, were intended to bring back the greatness and beauty the building had in the past.

The fire started on the restoration works level in the evening on Monday April 15th, 2019, for as-yet unknown reasons, even if, the theory of an accident seems to be supported. The authorities were alerted quickly, which allowed the evacuation of visitors and staff still present there.

Despite the fast arrival of firefighters, the fire had already spread across the whole building and had consumed the entire framework, often referred to as la forêt (the forest) that dated back to the Middle Ages. It was considered as one of the most precious architectural treasures of France. The absolute heroism and extreme courage of the firefighters, who spent the whole night trying to put out the fire, saved the entirety, from what we know, of the building: the Towers show little damage, the vault seems untouched for the most part, the Trésor could be saved. Now, the priority is to make sure that the structure will resist the tensions it suffered: the fire, the weight of the rubble as well as the water used to put out the fire, may remain potential threats.

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What about now? Hope and restoration

Notre Dame de Paris, a venerable building that was built almost a thousand years old, witnessed several wars, survived the French Revolution and the Paris Commune. If the fire of April 15th 2019 will be remembered as the most terrible tragedy in its history, there is hope for its future restoration.

A cathedral reworked and restored many times

We must keep in mind that a monument such as Notre Dame de Paris is not monolithic. The cathedral did not remain undamaged from the Middle Ages, it has experienced tribulations and reworking.

The restoration by Viollet-le-Duc, in the XIXth century for instance, deeply changed the building. It was necessary, considering the disrepair condition of the place. Nevertheless, the choices of the architect were particularly argued by his peers. Thus, the Spire that fell on April 15th, destroyed by the blaze, is an invention of the XIXth century inspired by Middle Ages constructions.

When Eugène Viollet-le-Duc started the restoration of Notre Dame, no spire had ever been on the roof, for several centuries. He drew his inspiration from an arrow put on an illumination of a manuscript dating back to the XVth century, Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, to set up a new one. The model gets its inspiration from the one in the Orléans cathedral, that was designed in the XIXth century. Notre Dame de Paris cathedral we have in the XXIst century is not exactly the same as the one experienced by Parisians in the Middle Ages.

A huge restoration project

The fire of April 15th 2019 profoundly ravaged the building, fragilized its structure in multiple points, but it did not completely destroy it. The damages are dramatic, but the remarkable work of the firefighters has prevented total destruction.

There will be no reconstruction, since the building is still standing: however it will probably be the most ambitious restoration campaign ever tackled on the monument since its completion in the Middle Ages.

To keep hope, you just need to remember the turmoil of the 1st World War: the cathedral of Reims was bombed on September 19th 1914, causing a devastating fire, immeasurable damages and the loss of the whole roof. Archive images available on the official website of Reims city hall enable show the extent of the damage: a wonderful restoration work enabled the building to regain its former glory.

Restoring Notre Dame: a shared concern

Authorities, in the person of Emmanuel Macron, assured that everything will be undertaken to restore Notre Dame de Paris’ integrity. Works will be long and extremely expensive. They will mobilize all the know-how and talent of craftsmen from France and beyond; nevertheless, they remain feasible for a country like France. The building’s revival can be possible, if the will and means are at the height of the project.

Private sponsors already promised important donations to finance the coming restoration campaign. The Pinault family has announced the release of 100 million euros to helt rebuild the cathedral. Meanwhile, the Arnault family has promised a donation reaching 200 million euros.

The fire caused great emotion throughout the world and a huge surge of solidarity followed. If you feel concerned by this tragedy, you can participate to the fundraising launched by the French Heritage Foundation: https://don.fondation-patrimoine.org/SauvonsNotreDame/~mon-don

Every donation, even the most minimal ones, will contribute to the restoration of this exceptional monument, which we will hopefully all be able to visit in a few years.

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