One day after the blaze that scarred Notre-Dame, President Emmanuel Macron addressed a nation in shock at the damage to one of its great cultural landmarks, with a promise that rang as clearly as the peal of the cathedral’s bells.
“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said on national television on the evening of Apr 16, 2019.
“And we can do it,” he added.
But six months after the Apr 15 fire that tore through the roof of the 13th-century Paris cathedral and toppled its spire, the reconstruction process is shaping up to be much more complex than many anticipated.
Workers have had to clean up significant quantities of lead that melted from the roof and contaminated areas around the cathedral, with critics saying the authorities were slow to warn the public of the risks.
There remains no consensus on how the cathedral should look after reconstruction, with many experts wanting the spire to be rebuilt exactly like the original, and Macron arguing for an innovative solution.
Above all, the process of securing an edifice still at risk of collapse after the fire damage has taken precedence over any reconstruction.
It is only at the end of 2020 that a complete check will allow architects to work out how to restore the cathedral. No reconstruction is expected to start before 2021.
It is impossible at this stage to say “how much this is going to cost, how long this is going to last,” said Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris.
Macron’s five-year goal would see the cathedral’s reconstruction completed in the spring of 2024, before Paris hosts the Olympic Games that year.
The top priority is to eliminate any risk to the vaulted ceiling, with the main danger coming from 500 tonnes of scaffolding that was erected around the fire for renovation work before the blaze.