Can Notre-Dame really be rebuilt in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics?

As the ashes cool at Notre-Dame, attention has shifted to the rebuilding project - and a rather significant date in Paris' calendar.

Can Notre-Dame really be rebuilt in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics?
Can this really be rebuilt by 2024? Photo: AFP

In just five years, Paris will be hosting the Olympic games and the city was obviously hoping to look its best for the event.

And a freshly rebuilt Notre-Dame cathedral will be the centrepiece of that, if French president Emmanuel Macron has his way.

Addressing the nation, in the aftermath of the blaze, Macron rashly committed himself to a timescale of five years.

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation a day after the blaze. “And we can do it.”

Macron during his TV address to the nation. Photo AFP

Who believes that the project can be finished in five years?

Macron has committed himself to the timetable, although he was careful to add: “Let us not fall into the trap of haste.”

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has also thrown her weight behind the five year deadline, telling reporters: “I would like the cathedral to be able to welcome the world in 2024, since in 2024 Paris will welcome the world.”

Meanwhile former culture minister Jack Lang told reporters: “Since yesterday I've been hearing that it will take a decade. That's a joke.”

Pointing to the renovations in Strasbourg, he said: “We have to do the same thing here, not in 10-15 years but three years.”

The stakes were raised by the International Olympic Committee, which on Thursday pledged €500,000 to help ensure Notre-Dame is restored in time for the 2024 Paris Games.

“The aim of completing the reconstruction in time for Paris 2024 will be an extra motivation for all of us,” IOC president Thomas Bach told 2024 Games chief Thomas Estanguet in a letter.

“All the Olympic movement and in particular the IOC have been extremely touched by the instantaneous connection the French have made between Notre-Dame cathedral and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games,” he wrote.

Estanguet said the Olympic family “wanted to show its solidarity with Parisians and all French people”.

French TV host Stephane Bern. Photo AFP

And who thinks it is impossible?

Jack Lang cited the recent renovations at Strasbourg Cathedral as an inspiration, but the man behind that resoration project has predicted that Notre-Dame will take much longer.

Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg cathedral, which recently underwent a three-year face lift, said: “I'd say decades.”  

“The damage will be significant. But we are lucky in France to still have a network of excellent heritage restoration companies, whether small-time artisans or bigger groups,” he told AFP 

Fischer said the ability to rebuild the colossal cathedral in a manner that respects its original form and character would depend on the plans, diagrams and other materials available to the architects.

They would need “a maximum of historical data or more recent data gathered with modern technology such as 3D scans” of the kind used in the restoration of the Strasbourg cathedral, he said.

Stephane Bern, a TV presenter famous for his programmes on medieval France who was recently appointed the government's representative on heritage, estimated the rebuilding would take “10 to 20 years minimum”.

Meanwhile French national heritage body Sites & Monuments sent a rather waspish tweet in which it accused both Macron and Hidalgo of “indecency” in trying to fit the Notre-Dame restoration into the Olympics timetable, lamenting it as a “sign of the times”.

Ultimately only time will tell, although fundraising efforts have got off to a flying start, with the official total already over €850 million.

French vocab

Jeux olympiques – Olympic games

Reconstruire – to rebuild

L'incendie – the fire

Les pompiers – firefighters

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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.