WILL NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL BE REBUILT THE SAME?
The Notre Dame de Paris cathedral is one of the iconic sights of the City of Lights. For all Paris lovers, the 2019 fire was a tragedy.
Notre Dame de Paris is a medieval Catholic cathedral located on the Ile de la Cité, on the banks of the Seine river, in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
It is considered one of the finest French Gothic architecture example, pioneering new building techniques such as flying buttresses, the use of the rib vault or the gigantic stone rose windows2.
When did Notre Dame burn?
On April, 15th 2019, fire broke out beneath the roof. You may have seen the images on TV at the time, of the cathedral wreathed in smoke and flames. Did it bring tears to your eyes? It certainly did to mine, a born and bred Parisian.
But let's start at the beginning and give you a little information about the cathedral's history.
When was notre dame cathedral built?
The building of the Catholic cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, started in the 12th century, more precisely in 1163. The construction was mostly finished in 1260 although the building was extensively modified during the following centuries2.
The most recent extensive renovations dates from the 19th century and was conducted by the famous French architect Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc, between 1844 and 1864. The renovations included the building of a sacristy, the carving of the mythical Galerie des Chimères and a a new taller, more ornate spire.
Interestingly, the renovations were triggered by the renewed popular interest in the cathedral following the publication of Victor Hugo's masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre Dame de Paris, novel, 1831). Victor Hugo wanted to save the cathedral, threatened of demolition because of its decaying state and decided that a popular book would be the best way. Isn't that fascinating? Had he lived in the 21st century, he would not doubt have made an epic movie.
Who built Notre Dame?
The French Catholic church built Notre Dame de Paris, under the impulsion of Bishop Maurice de Sully in 11632.
How did Notre Dame fire start?
According to the architect of the French Historical Monuments interviewed in the BBC documentary "Rebuilding Notre-Dame"1, nobody knows exactly how the fire started.
The cathedral was undergoing restauration work at the time and this is always when ancient monuments are at the greatest risk of fire, especially those, like Notre Dame, where the roof is supported by a forest of dry timer. Dust clouds from the work can, for example, spontaneously ignite.
The ancient wooden roof structure burned like tinder and two thirds of the roof collapsed, together with the famous spire. The spire, originally designed by 19th century architect Viollet Le Duc, is visible in this lovely reproduction of a 1898 drawing by Auguste Vitu (available at French Vintage Prints).
The upper walls, also visible in the drawing, were also severely damaged. This kind of architecture is a fragile balance, most of its elements resting on each other to give the whole stability and strength so damage part of it and the whole structure is fragilized.
The roof's lead covering melted with the heat and the whole surrounding area was covered in a cloud of toxic lead and dust for a while.
What was lost in Notre Dame fire?
Luckily for the numerous priceless works of art housed inside the cathedral, the vault protected most of the interior from devastation and many of the pieces of art were moved to safety in time, thanks to the emergency plans in place for such eventuality.
The most valuable works of art had actually already been moved out as the cathedral was undergoing restauration.
Images of the inside of the cathedral after the fire showed the historical carved pews mostly intact, as well as the famous black and white checkerboard paving.
This 1889 poster, available at French Vintage Prints, shows the marble checkerboard floor and the pews inside the choir.
Were the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame saved?
The 3 famous gigantic stone rose windows and most of the historic stained-glass windows miraculously escaped the damage.
Interestingly, the scaffolding erected inside the cathedral to restore it after the fire enables glass historians to have access to the rose windows for the first time ever, making a detailed study possible1.
Can you still go into Notre Dame? Is Notre Dame open to the public in 2022?
Notre Dame's cathedral is closed to the public since the fire. It is set to reopen in 2024, when the restoration is complete. Let's hope that they will not run behind too much. There is so much to be done!
1 Inside the Great Cathedral - Rebuilding Notre-Dame, 2022 BBC documentary. 2 Notre-Dame de Paris, Wikipedia article