It's impossible to forget the fire of Notre-Dame that burned on April 15th, 2019. People from all over the world joined Parisians in watching the tragedy unfold with live news updates documenting the destruction minute by minute. As we approach the 4 year anniversary of the fire, questions still remain about what caused it, what was destroyed, how they are going to fix it, and - most importantly - when will it reopen.
What caused the fire?
There are quite a few theories as to what caused the fire: a popular myth at the time was that a loose cigarette started it all! After extensive investigation, however, the real answer was significantly less dramatic. The cause of the fire was ultimately determined to be accidental, and likely related to ongoing renovations taking place at the cathedral. Specifically, it is believed that an electrical short-circuit sparked the flames that quickly spread throughout the medieval wooden roof structure.
Despite the heroic efforts of hundreds of firefighters, the blaze ultimately caused significant damage to the iconic cathedral, including the loss of its spire and much of its roof.
What was destroyed?
In the aftermath of the fire, the scale of the destruction became clear. Much of the cathedral's roof and wooden interior had been destroyed, leaving gaping holes in the once-majestic structure. The famed rose window, a testament to the skill of medieval glassmakers, had fortunately survived, but the heat and smoke had caused significant damage to its delicate tracery and surrounding masonry.
The treasures and artifacts of Notre-Dame were also put at risk by the fire. The cathedral housed a vast collection of artworks, religious relics, and historical documents, many of which had been saved by quick-thinking staff and emergency services personnel. Out of 25 paintings, 22 were removed for restoration.
How are they going about repairs?
Scaffolding of 600 tons, 42000 square meters of interior walls, and 8000 organ pipes contribute to the hefty 846 million euros in restoration costs of Notre Dame. Amidst the ashes and chaos, a determined effort began to restore this symbol of French heritage. The repair process was a herculean task, requiring skilled craftsmen to work tirelessly in perilous conditions to secure the fragile structure and remove the debris.
The restoration was a delicate dance between cutting-edge technology and traditional methods, as skilled artisans worked painstakingly to rebuild the intricate stonework and replace the charred wooden beams with new ones made from the same type of oak used in the original construction.
Researchers are even using technology to recreate the acoustic qualities of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which were lost when the building was damaged by fire in 2019. The acoustics team working on the restoration say the holes left by the fire destroyed about 20% of the building’s sound quality. The researchers are using a computer model that incorporates the acoustic properties of the cathedral, including changes over time, to simulate what the space would have sounded like in the past. Visitors to the building will eventually be able to hear a virtual recreation of Pérotin’s Viderunt Omnes as it would have sounded in 1198.
When will it reopen?
The cathedral's parvis and archaeological crypt are now open to the public, but the towers and treasures are closed until further notice. The Pont au Double footbridge is accessible again, and the cathedral is expected to fully reopen in April 2024. You are able to see a lot of the cathedral from surrounding bridges, we recommend walking across the bridge called Pont de la Tournelle.
The restoration work is being supervised by architect Philippe Villeneuve, and the forecourt and surroundings will be redeveloped with a focus on green spaces and enhancing the monument's facade. Masses are currently celebrated at the church of Saint-Germain L’Auxerrois during the restoration work.
If you are interested in visiting the outside of this iconic monument on your trip to Paris, it is a stop on our 4 hour walking tour.
By Julia Orr