Notre-Dame nears re-opening five years after fire

  • World
  • Friday, 12 Apr 2024

FILE PHOTO: A combination picture shows smoke billowing as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 15, 2019 (top) and a view of the new spire, surmounted by the rooster and the cross as restoration works continue at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris, France, March 30, 2024. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier and Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - Five years after a devastating fire, the restoration of Notre-Dame cathedral is nearing completion as the world's eyes turn to Paris for the Olympic Games.

On the evening of April 15, 2019, the cathedral's roof burst into flames. Soon, it had engulfed the spire and almost toppled the main bell towers. Around the world, TV viewers watched with horror as the medieval building burned.

Macron, whose second and final term ends in 2027, wants the cathedral's restoration to lift the nation's mood - and his government's approval ratings.

"Only once in a century does one host Olympic and Paralympic Games, only once in a millennium does one rebuild a cathedral," Macron said in his 2024 New Year speech.

It remains unclear what exactly caused the fire. French authorities have said an electrical fault or a burning cigarette may have been responsible.

"A firefighter told me 'Sir, take a close look at the facade because if we don't manage to put out that fire, it will all go to ruin'," remembered Laurence Alsina, who owns a bookselling stand close to the cathedral on the banks of the River Seine.

The facade held, but the damage has needed five years of intense stabilisation and restoration works.

The pride of those working on the project shines through.

"This is the construction work of a lifetime, because restoring an entire monument in all its three-dimensionality, that's quite exceptional." Emma Roux, an artisan working on the iconic stained glass windows said.

The re-opening is scheduled for December, and is currently running on schedule, according to the official leading the project.

"We are on time and on budget," Philippe Jost said last month at a Senate hearing.

Jost told lawmakers that the project had so far cost 550 million euros ($587 million), funded in part by massive donations, including from luxury sector billionaires Francois Henri Pinault and the Arnault family. So much money has been donated that there will even be funds left over for further investment in the building, he said.

"An additional 150 million euros should be made available and - provided the approval of our sponsors - it will be used to restore the cathedral and tackle problems that predate the fire, which mainly concern the exterior stonework," Jost added.

Jost, 63, a trained engineer who spent much of his career in the defence ministry, took over the job after his predecessor, General Jean-Louis Georgelin, died in a hiking accident in August 2023.

($1 = 0.9367 euros)

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Alison Williams)

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