Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame de Paris: Rebuilding two years after the fire

The first task for workers on Notre-Dame cathedral has been removing hundreds of tonnes of scaffolding that were damaged in the fire.
The first task for workers on Notre-Dame cathedral has been removing hundreds of tonnes of scaffolding that were damaged in the fire. © AFP/Martin Bureau/File

On 15 April 2019, the fire at Paris' Notre-Dame caused international emotion after the blaze brought its towering spire and roof crashing to the ground, wiping out centuries of priceless heritage central to French culture and history. Two years later, the work to make the cathedral safe is nearing completion.

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While the spire collapsed and much of the roof was destroyed, the efforts of firefighters ensured the great medieval edifice survived the night. But the road to restoration has been long and arduous and it is only expected to return to its former glory in April 2024, five years after the fire.

The cause of the blaze remains a subject of uncertainty, although investigators are so far rejecting any idea of foul play and focusing on a short-circuit or even a dropped cigarette as possible explanations.

President Emmanuel Macron set the five-year restoration target in the immediate aftermath of the fire, which would mean the cathedral could be open again when Paris hosts the 2024 summer Olympics.

Securing the building

The actual restoration work has yet to begin. Until now, work has been focused on securing the building, including the painstaking task of removing 40,000 pieces of scaffolding calcified in the fire.

This should be finished in the summer, allowing the full restoration works to begin early next year.

Already, some 1,000 specially-selected oak trees are drying out to reconstruct the spire -- which Macron had been tempted to replace with a modern touch but will now be rebuilt as it was -- and the crossing of the transept.

The interior of the cathedral is today marked by a web of scaffolding, surrounded by nets and tarpaulins, where carpenters, rope workers, scaffolders and crane operators hurry around.

For the past two years, the "climbers" of Notre-Dame have been extracting burnt beams, the remains of the roof and sacks full of charcoal and debris.
For the past two years, the "climbers" of Notre-Dame have been extracting burnt beams, the remains of the roof and sacks full of charcoal and debris. © RFI/Lucile Gimberg

"Everything that fell because of the fire, everything that burned, we had to evacuate it, room by room, square metre by square metre," says roof technician Michaël Lemaire to RFI.

"All the material of the roof was reduced to dust. Sometimes there were pieces of copper, pieces of structure, nails. All these elements have a history. They are pieces of Notre-Dame, which, although burnt or degraded, are still considered as important remains," he adds.

Along with hundreds of experts seeking to secure and restore the cathedral, archaeologists have studied, sorted and inventoried these remains.

The archaeologist Dorothée Chaoui-Derieux rescues a forged nail from a sack of charred rubble. It will later be studied by specialists.
The archaeologist Dorothée Chaoui-Derieux rescues a forged nail from a sack of charred rubble. It will later be studied by specialists. © RFI/Lucile Gimberg

"Among all the finds during these two years, I remember in particular having found an element of the clock of Notre-Dame; we also extracted some bells. The first nails for example, the medieval nails, which are very large, very well forged," says Olivier Puaux, archaeologist at the Ministry of Culture.

"I am unhappy about what happened but so happy about what I have achieved during these two years. I may have saved a part of the cathedral's heritage which, I hope, will end up either in the cathedral or in a future museum. The future will tell. "

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