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NOTRE DAME

French MPs vote through law on speedy Notre-Dame restoration

French lawmakers on Friday approved a controversial law for restoring Notre-Dame within five years, after the famous Paris cathedral sustained major fire damage last month.

French MPs vote through law on speedy Notre-Dame restoration
The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral burnt down much of the roof. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP
Renovating the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral, whose wooden roof was largely destroyed in the April 15 blaze, will be an unprecedented challenge for the government, which drafted a special bill for managing the huge project. 
 
Images of the ancient cathedral going up in flames sparked shock and dismay across the globe as well as in France, where it is considered one of the nation's most beloved landmarks. 
   
Days after the fire, French President Emmanuel Macron set a target for the restoration to be finished within five years, meaning it should be ready by the time Paris hosts the Olympics in 2024. 
   
But the legislation, aimed at speeding up the construction process, sparked controversy because it would involve removing some of the red tape protecting the ancient structure.
   
After thirteen hours of debate, the bill was adopted by 32 votes in favour, five against and 10 abstentions. It will now be forwarded to the Senate for further scrutiny scheduled for May 27.
 
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As the session opened, Culture Minister Franck Riester told MPs that although five years was “an ambitious timeframe” for renovating Notre-Dame, which took 200 years to build, the project would “not be done in haste”.
   
“Yes, we want to move quickly. Some have accused us of wanting to move too quickly but the outpouring of generosity was very fast so we can and must respond, which is what we are doing,” he said.
   
So far, nearly one billion euros ($1.1 billion) has been donated or pledged for Notre-Dame, with Riester pledging that the funds will go “entirely and exclusively” to its restoration. 
   
Experts believe the total bill will come to between 600-700 million euros, with some raising questions over what will be done with any leftover money, suggesting it could be channelled to other crumbling churches and cathedrals. 
   
France's Observatory for Religious Heritage (OPR) says there are between 40,000 and 60,000 churches and chapels in France, 5,000 of which are in a state of dilapidation. 
 
'Precise rules'
 
The law also outlines the creation of a public body to oversee and carry out the work within a rapid time frame, but more controversially grants the government power to override regulations on planning, environmental and heritage protection and public tenders.
   
But Riester said the provision would not be used to cut corners.
 
“There are very precise rules which apply to the restoration of heritage buildings and property which are formalised in the code on cultural heritage and which correspond to France's excellence in this field,” he said.
 
“It goes without saying that these rules will be applied, I will guarantee it.”
   
The law does not mention the architectural aspects of the project, with some MPs keen to push through legislation stating that the work will ensure the cathedral is rebuilt exactly as it was without any creative additions. 
   
Notre-Dame has figured as a central character through the ups and downs of French history since construction began in the mid-12th century.
 
It was vandalised and plundered during the French Revolution in the 18th century, but went on to feature as a central character in a Victor Hugo's 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” which is credited with helping save it. 
   
It survived the devastation of two global conflicts in the 20th century and famously rang its bells on August 24, 1944, the day of the Liberation of Paris from German occupation at the end of the World War II.

Member comments

  1. This is far too important a project to be pushed through on an artificial time-line, ie, ready for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
    People should be rightly sceptical that with the amount of restoration work needed on the entire building and not just the roof, then corners will be cut in order to finish on time.
    I fear that this decision doesn’t bode well for such an important and beautiful building.

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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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