HISTORY & AFTERMATH OF THE 2019 FIRE
notre dame de paris
A visit to Notre-Dame de Paris has always been a must for anyone visiting the city. But that all changed in April 2019 when a horrific fire sent shock waves through Europe, destroying much of one of the world’s oldest Catholic cathedrals. Keep reading for a status report on this iconic landmark.
A (once) spectacular cathedral steeped in history, it was one of the major sights to see in Paris...
After the horrific fire in April 2019, the inside of the building is closed off to the general public indefinitely. What was destroyed? What did they save? I’ve got a full report for you!
Of course, there’s nothing to stop you admiring the cathedral from the outside. It’s surrounded by a fence that has been jazzed up with entries for story and drawing competitions... There is also a way to explore the inside, but more on that later!
Last Modified: 03.02.2023 | Céline
NOTRE DAME DE PARIS
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at a glance
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THERE TO SEE?
The Notre-Dame Cathedral was by all accounts an emblematic Parisian monument. Its two towers are a distinctive feature on the Paris skyline and the outline of the whole cathedral has always been unmistakable. You should also know that it is one of the oldest Christian sites in modern-day Paris. The original part of the building dates back to around 540/550 and the cathedral as we know it was built on top, with construction work starting in 1163.
Notre-Dame was a pioneering feat of architecture. The buttresses were an essential innovation that enabled the architects to build such a tall and narrow building with so many huge windows. Gothic architecture doesn’t get much better than this! With a diameter of 12 metres, the rosette is one of the largest in Europe.
Buildings of this stature have to be restored on a regular basis – especially when they’ve been around for so long.
The restorations in the 1990s were taken care of without a hitch. Unfortunately, the cathedral’s fate was sealed within days of major work starting in April 2019…
Notre Dame cathedral: the fire
WHAT IS THE SITUATION NOW?
Restoration work on Notre-Dame began in the spring of 2019, with the main objective of repairing the wooden spire above the cross-section of the transept. Scaffolding had been erected around the spire and it is believed that this is where the fire broke out. Luckily, 16 statues had been removed from the roof and sent to a workshop for restoration the week before the fire!
The fire alarm first sounded at 18:20 on 15 April, but no fire was located. Mass continued as usual inside the cathedral, but the fire alarm went off again at 18:43. This time, the fire was located in the attic and everyone was evacuated.
The roof structure was ablaze for just one hour before the small spire collapsed at 19:56. The very part of the cathedral that had needed to be restored was now completely destroyed.
Efforts to fight the fire went on well into the next morning. It wasn’t until 09:50 on 16 April that the fire was officially declared to be out. 600 firefighters and no end of fire engines, helicopters and drones were involved in this major operation. As the press reported on the blaze and shared images of the damage, the world held its breath.
Sadly, the spire wasn’t the only casualty of the fire. The roof structure was seriously damaged and the nave vaulting was broken at two points. Thankfully, the west façade featuring the main towers, rosette and buttresses remain intact. And the precious relics and works of art inside the building were saved. Of course, a lot of damage was still caused by the soot and the water used to put out the fire.
Restoring the cathedral is going to be a major project. Although an incredible amount of money was pledged in donations, over half never materialised. And yet President Macron hopes to have the work complete within five years.
While the police investigation is ongoing, there is no suspicion that the fire was started deliberately.
Those pictures were taken on a Seine-Boat-Trip – you have a good view on the reconstruction from there!
For some time now, a reopening date has been in the air: summer 2024.
The Olympic Games will be held in France in 2024. On this occasion, Notre-Dame should be accessible again.
The architects Philippe Villeneuve and Rémi Fromont study old drawings, especially for the reconstruction of the crossing tower – in order to set it up again according to the historical model. They also rely on the help of students from the USA, who studied traditional construction methods of the Middle Ages and designed a detailed model of them.
A cause for celebration: Villeneuve declared that “not a single piece of stained glass was damaged during the fire”! Source: Vatican News
The interior design is already being discussed: chairs should be placed instead of benches. This way you can switch more flexibly between tourist visitors and concerts.
And it could be that there will be a fresh artistic wind with the reopening: there is a call for artists who should now fill empty tabernacles and chapels.
We are excited!
A little smile on the side: Completing the reconstruction by 2024 might be sporty. The Sagrada Família is supposed to be completed by 2026 (which is even sportier). Which of the two church buildings will win the race…
Towers on west façade: 69 m tall
Nave (inside): 130 m long, 48 m wide and 35 m tall (by comparison Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is 340 m long)
Spire: 96 m tall
notre dame de paris
A BIT OF HISTORY
Notre-Dame has undergone a lot of construction work in its time and 2020 marked the start of yet another building phase.
When was Notre Dame built?
The cathedral was built on the site of the Cathedral of Saint Etienne, which dates back to 540/550, making it one of the oldest known Christian buildings in Paris.
Work to build Notre-Dame as we know it started in 1163, when architecture was still romanesque. The building work wasn’t complete until 1345, however, and the 200 years that passed saw the gothic style evolve. And so we can safely say that Notre-Dame is the earliest gothic church in the whole of France.
But what made this building so special?
That would be its distinctive shape as the tallest and narrowest cathedral at that time. Nobody had seen such huge, tall windows in a building of this kind before! And it all came down to the innovative buttresses.
The construction work can be broken down into four rough phases. In actual fact, the cathedral was finished back in 1250, but the technical advancements by that point meant that there was a chance to experiment with new gothic stylings and get the design spot on. Add, redesign, perfect, repeat…
The romanesque choir was completed and consecrated in 1182. By 1190, the crossing, transept and most of the nave were signed off. The west façade was closed off until 1225, when work on the nave was completed.
The spire was erected in 1230 and the construction of the two towers took from around this point until 1250.
Records shows that the first gothic-inspired renovations then started in 1250.
Concerns that the transept façades would be too Romanesque in their style led to them being pulled down and rebuilt in places. The romanesque choir buttresses were later replaced with gothic alternatives and work to update the inside of the cathedral went on until 1363.
Fun facts from the cathedral’s past
- You won’t quite believe what happened during the Age of Enlightenment in 1728… The stained glass windows were replaced with white panes and the inside of the cathedral was painted white all over!
- Most of the interior was destroyed during the French Revolution in 1793. Luckily, Notre-Dame escaped the fate of so many other church buildings. Rather than being pulled down, it was ‘just’ desecrated and turned into a Temple of Reason. Later, it was even used as a wine store – how very French!
- Napoleon Bonaparte restored its purpose as a cathedral in 1802 and it provided the setting for his coronation in 1806 (check out the painting by Jacques-Louis David on display in the Louvre).
- Victor Hugo’s famous novel ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’ was released in 1831 and later adapted for the stage and screen. The book really drew attention to just how stunning the cathedral was, which led to a major restoration project in 1844. Missing sculptures were replaced, the white paint on the walls removed and stained glass windows inserted. Wood covered in lead was used to modernise the spire.
- The building has been owned by the state since 1905, when the law on the separation of the church and the state made France a secular republic. The aim was to limit the influence of the church on politics as far as possible. This came in response to the military, nobility, church and other powerful bodies demanding the re-establishment of the French monarchy since 1870. A turbulent time for French politics to say the least!
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