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NOTRE DAME

France to launch international contest to rebuild Notre-Dame spire

France on Wednesday announced it would invite architects from around the world to submit designs for replacing the spire of Notre-Dame cathedral after a devastating blaze, as the government braced for a mammoth restoration challenge.

France to launch international contest to rebuild Notre-Dame spire
What will replace the gap where the spire once stood? Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the contest would decide whether the monument should have a new spire at all and if so, whether it should be identical to the fallen 19th-century model or be a wholly new design.

The world looked on in horror Monday as flames engulfed the 850-year-old gothic masterpiece seen as encapsulating the soul of Paris and the spire came crashing down.


Construction work was ongoing on Wednesday to make the site safe. Photo: AFP

Explaining that having no new spire at all was an option, Philippe noted that Notre-Dame had been without a steeple for part of its history.

“The international contest will settle the question of whether we should build a new spire, whether we should rebuild the spire that was designed and built by (Eugene) Viollet-Le-Duc, in identical fashion, or whether we should… endow Notre-Dame cathedral with a new spire adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era.”

Philippe described the task of rebuilding it as “a huge challenge and historic responsibility”, a day after President Emmanuel Macron said the  entire restoration should be completed in just five years.

Macron had vowed to rebuild the iconic monument by 2024 when France hosts the summer Olympics.

“We can do it,” he said Tuesday, calling France “a nation of builders.”

On Wednesday afternoon, he was set to chair a meeting of senior government, church, conservation and Paris city officials to launch the reconstruction process. 

No sooner had firefighters extinguished the flames than pledges of donations towards restoring France's best-loved monument, which attracted 12 million visitors in 2018, began to pour in.

The blazing spire collapsed shortly after this picture was taken. Photo: AFP

Within 24 hours, the pledges had reached more than €800 million, with French business magnates and corporations jostling to outshine each other with displays of generosity.

But the slew of announcements raised eyebrows in France, with some leftist politicians arguing that the ultra-rich could best help protect the country's cultural heritage by fully paying their taxes – or helping the “human cathedral” of people in need.

The huge tax breaks available on the donations also caused some unease, prompting Francois-Henri Pinault, the billionaire CEO of the Kering luxury goods empire, to announce he would forfeit his rebate.

“The donation for Notre-Dame of Paris will not be the object of any tax deduction. Indeed, the Pinault family considers that it is out of the question to make French taxpayers shoulder the burden,” Pinault said in a statement.

Pinault had led the pledges of donations starting Monday night with a promise of €100 million. 

Billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH luxury conglomerate, Total oil company and cosmetics giant L'Oreal also each pledged €100 million or more, while US tech giant Apple said it would give an unspecified amount.

French corporations are eligible for a 60-percent tax rebate on cultural donations. 

The government said on Wednesday that figure would remain unchanged, but increased the rebate to 75 percent on individual donations for Notre-Dame of up to €1,000. 

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HISTORY

Notre-Dame restoration work begins as Paris cathedral on track to reopen in 2024

France's Notre-Dame cathedral is finally ready to undergo restoration work more than two years after a blaze ravaged the heritage landmark, and remains on course to reopen in 2024, authorities said Saturday, following months of painstaking work to secure the building.

Notre-Dame restoration work begins as Paris cathedral on track to reopen in 2024

The great mediaeval edifice survived the inferno on April 15th, 2019, but the spire collapsed and much of the roof was destroyed.

The focus until now had been on making the cathedral safe before restoration work could begin, which included the strenuous task of removing 40,000 pieces of scaffolding that were damaged in the blaze.

“The cathedral stands solid on its pillars, its walls are solid, everything is holding together,” said Jean-Louis Georgelin, head of the public entity tasked with rebuilding the cathedral.

Scaffolding in the interior of the building as the restoration phase begins. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / POOL / AFP

“We are determined to win this battle of 2024, to reopen our cathedral in 2024. It will be France’s honour to do so and we will do so because we are all united on this goal.”

The aim is to celebrate the first full service in the cathedral on April 16th, 2024 – five years after the fire – despite delays caused by the pandemic and the lead that spread during the blaze.

The Notre-Dame spire, a later addition to the medieval building, was completely destroyed in the blaze. Photos by AFP

Authorities will now call for tenders to select the companies to carry out the restoration work.

The cathedral’s interior walls and floors will also undergo “a thorough cleaning process” later this month.

Notre-Dame’s famous Grand Organ is already being restored, with its 8,000 pipes dismantled and sent to organ builders all over France.

It is expected to be put together again in October 2023, said Georgelin, the former head of France’s armed forces who was appointed by President Emmanuel Macron to oversee rebuilding efforts.

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