It was April 15, 18:53, four years ago. A fire engulfed Notre Dame de Paris, burning the nine centuries-old walls for almost 15 hours and sinking the famous wooden flèche added by the architect Viollet-le-Duc in 1860. We all looked shocked at those images, wondering if and when it would be possible to visit the Cathedral again. Today, only four years later, we know that that moment is near: the reopening site is heading towards its final phase and in December 2024 we will be able to enter the monument again, restored and – say the site managers – more beautiful than before.
What stage are the works of Notre Dame
In fact, in the first phase of the works, which lasted two years from 2019 to 2021, the interior of the cathedral was cleaned and made safe (for a total area of 42,000 square meters). Not only that: the damaged paintings have been refreshed to bring them back to their original colours, while the reassembly of the old organ (with 8,000 pipes) is almost complete. After cleaning, it was up to the vaults to be restored, a stone cutting and masonry work that will be completed by 2023. But the most delicate part remains the recovery of the flèche, the 70-metre-long wooden spire positioned at a height of 30 meters (thus reaching a height of 100 meters): first it was necessary to collect 2000 chestnut trees (100% French), then cut the wood in ateliers located throughout the area and assemble the hundreds of parts. Only now, at the end of April, will the blocks be transported inside Notre Dame by carpenters to rebuild the flèche in its entirety and bring it back to its original position.
When will Notre Dame reopen?
The completion date for December 2024 had been set by French President Emmanuel Macron in the aftermath of the fire. Five years are enough, according to Philippe Jost, Director General of the public body “Rebuild Notre Dame” whom we met inside the construction site: “Immediately after the fire some said “I will never see the Cathedral open again in my life, there it will take twenty years”… Instead, the deadline set by the President is our best ally because it encourages us to proceed without wasting time. So it’s a feasible goal.” The program for the day of reopening is also already known: “A great mass will be celebrated, after which the visits will resume as well as the liturgy every day, as before the fire,” says Jost.
A new fire system
The Cathedral will be as before, but more resistant to fires. “The Cathedral’s fire protection has been completely redesigned, with systems for spraying water from the ceiling and a more efficient water distribution network so that firefighters can intervene more quickly”, assures the project manager. The total cost of the restoration is 700 million euros, entirely covered by donations received from 340,000 people around the world. The amount collected is so important that it will also cover the costs of maintenance already planned before the fire.