Scratch to save a castle: France launches new heritage lottery

French President Emmanuel Macron launched a new lottery Thursday to raise funds for the restoration of endangered heritage sites, including an island fort in Brittany, a Roman aqueduct near Lyon and a disused sugar refinery on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte.

Scratch to save a castle: France launches new heritage lottery
Fort-Cigogne, Fouesnant (Finistère). Photo: Matthieu Faurre

The lottery, inspired by the British national lottery's heritage fund, will take place in September and is expected to raise 15-20 million euros ($17 million-$23 million).

Eighteen imperilled sites of historic, religious, architectural and cultural importance have been earmarked for the funds. 

They include the home of poet and political activist Aime Cesaire (1913-2008) on the French Caribbean island of Martinique and the Burgundy castle of Count Roger de Bussy-Rabutin (1618-1693), who was banished from the court of Louis XIV for exposing the trysts of fellow members of the nobility.

Players will be able to choose between tickets for a 13-million-euro jackpot and scratch cards with a top prize of 1.5 million euros.

Macron launched the lottery while visiting with his wife Brigitte the home of Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire in Ferney on the Swiss border.

Voltaire's chateau reopens to the public on Friday after a nine-million-euro facelift by the state.

Macron, who has embarked on a cost-cutting drive, told residents in Ferney he was now asking heritage lovers to gamble on conservation to avoid 
increasing taxes.

A quarter of France's listed monuments are in a bad state of repair, of which around 2,000 — or five percent — are endangered, according to Culture 
Minister Francoise Nyssen. 

The government has earmarked 326 million euros for heritage restoration and conservation this year, up five percent on 2017.

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Why making Paris’ Sacré-Cœur a historic monument is causing a stir

More than a century after its completion, the iconic basilica is set to get official recognition equal to that of the Notre Dame and the Louvre museum. But its bloody past is making the decision a controversial one - even today.

Why making Paris' Sacré-Cœur a historic monument is causing a stir
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is one of France's most popular tourist attractions. Photo: AFP

French authorities this week launched the process to turn the famed building into a listed moment, exactly 100 years since it was consecrated in 1919.


The basilica draws some 10 million visitors a year and has become the most-visited edifice since the blaze left the Notre Dame tarnished in 2019, regional authorities said.

Yet, it lacks the same official status as the cathedral.

“The Sacré-Coeur is one of the symbols of Paris. But, as astonishing as it seems, it is not protected as a historic monument,” said Laurent Roturier, head of the Paris region's cultural affairs, in a press statement published on their website.

“[We] wanted to give this building the recognition it deserves with regard to its architectural quality.”

Why has it taken so long?

Notre Dame became a listed historic monument in 1862, and the Louvre museum in 1889.

That it took more than a century from the first stone was laid back in 1875 until the Sacré-Coeur soon would be able to claim the same title, is in large part due to its bloody history.

The monument is associated with the ‘’bloody week’’ of May 1871, when a radical left-wing group known as the Paris Commune rebelled against the government.

In a bloody battle the anti-monarchist rebels executed many of their hostages, including two French generals, on the Montmartre hill, precisely where the Sacré-Cœur stands today.

“These quarrels are behind us but have delayed the protection process,” Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot told French media this week.

The other reason, she said, was that for a long time it was seen as an eyesore, reflecting widespread “disdain for 19th century buildings”.

The culture minister was referring to that some find the Sacré-Cœur, which has been nicknamed the “Alabaster Wedding Cake”, ugly.

Back in the day when it was built, famous French author Emile Zola expressed his disdain for the basilica in his book Paris, calling it a “slap in the face of reason” that was “built to glorify the absurd.”

A bit more close to our time, some “anti-Sacré-Cœur” militants have asked for it to be demolished, comparing it to a “wart”.

But, considered its high visiting numbers, it seems that most tourists and French enjoy the views of the building. And, with its soon-to-come official recognition, they will be able to do so for a long time to come.