Rising from the ashes: Notre Dame in 2021
Television has brought our world together, never more so than at times of great historical significance, and times of great tragedy. Together we watched as Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. Together we watched Live Aid. Together we watched the planes fly into the twin towers on nine/eleven. Together we watched the fall of the Berlin Wall.
And together we watched Notre Dame burn.
I wasn’t in Paris at the time but like so many others I followed the events on TV. The first news of the fire; the burning timbers; the collapse of the spire and the great timbers of the roof; and the survival of the glorious 13th century rose windows.
Subsequently I watched a fascinating BBC documentary about the fire, The Night Notre Dame Burned (viewable only in the UK I believe). In it, the events of that night are seen through the eyes of several people who were closely involved in different ways.
Cathedral employees who first responded to the alarm and discovered the fire. A rector who watched the fire start from his seat at a café table, where he’d stopped for a glass of wine on his way home after the day’s work. Marie-Ange, a young firefighter very new to the job, fighting her first fire; what a one this was to start with! The commander of the fire brigade faced with the enormous task of managing the huge team working inside and outside the cathedral. The mayor of Paris; and an architect of historic monuments, drawn to travel to the city from his home in La Rochelle to witness this event and offer his help. Plus the teams forming human chains to rescue precious artefacts and relics from the building; the bystanders watching horrified from the banks of the Seine, moved to sing hymns in prayer for the cathedral’s survival.
And survive she did – just. Had the roof fully collapsed, the walls would surely have followed, pushed inwards by the flying buttresses designed to press back against the weight of that roof. And had the huge bells fallen from the North Tower as the timbers that held them burned, they could have brought down the tower and with it the whole cathedral. But when the fire was finally under control at around 21.45 (almost three hours after it started), amazingly much of the structure still stood.
The West Front, photographed on our 2017 visit to Paris, and in September 2021
Within days plans were underway for reconstruction, and a public appeal launched to help fund it. There was talk of a striking modern replacement for the spire, which might have been interesting. But in the end it was decided that like-for-like restoration was more appropriate for such a significant and meaningful building.
Notre Dame today
When we visited Paris in September 2021, two and a half years after the fire, work was well underway. The first phase, making the structure safe, was just about finished (in fact its completion was announced just 12 days after our visit) and the great task of reconstruction was about to start.
It was sad to see Notre Dame so badly hurt; but at the same time both interesting and inspiring to see what was being done to help her recover. Scaffolding shrouded much of the cathedral, but the West Front was clear and still looking stunning. A giant crane loomed over her, removing damaged wood I think. Ancient gargoyles jutted through the scaffolding.
And along the northern edge a fascinating series of information boards described the work being done and highlighted the many roles of those involved in it. There are scaffolders, art restorers, crane operators, architects, carpenters, historians, archaeologists, scientists, engineers and many more.
So I thought it would interest any of you who love Paris and Notre Dame, any of you who like me watched the horror of that night unfold, to see some current views of the work in progress. As always, please click on any image to see it, and all the others, in a full-screen slide show.
I visit Paris regularly; most of these photos were taken in September 2021, unless otherwise indicated
Such a sad story, good to know you could see some progress and the restoration is keeping the historic flavor. I remember walking along that high passage up with the gargoyles, I’m glad many survived!
I never got up to that high point although I always meant to. Seems I’ll have to wait quite a while now!
Such an interesting post. And thanks for mentioning the BBC programme which we hadn’t seen – that was so well done, with the added treat for us of its all being in French.
Thank you Margaret 🙂 I completely agree about that programme – we both found it fascinating at the time and plan to re-watch now we’ve seen the progress being made on the restoration work.
Great they’re working on it. European speed is slower than American, and they may also run into unforeseen surprises, since it was constructed a few centuries ago – we’ll see if Macron gets his wish:)
Thanks for stopping by Emille. I think in this case it’s necessary to take it slowly. The building is very fragile, as without the roof the buttresses have little to press on and could cause it to collapse if not properly supported. I’d rather they took their time than tried to hard to meet that deadline!
Pleased they have opted to restore rather than reinvent….
Yes, I think that’s a pretty generally-held view – the building is too well-loved for people to want to see it changed too much 🙂
That was so awful to see such an iconic beautiful building engulfed in flames. It takes such a long time restore something which was damaged in such a short time.
That’s so true. Macron has said he wants it open for worship by Christmas 2024 but I think everyone feels that is optimistic. Certainly the work will be nowhere near complete by then but maybe it will be safe for people to go inside for some sort of service.
Watching horrified on tv, I never thought at the time that anything would be left. So glad to see it being restored. Wish we could get more BBC here.
Yes, I remember watching and fully expecting the damage to be far worse even than it was. Apparently it was touch and go – if the timbers holding the great bells had burned through and bells crashed to the ground they could have brought the towers and possibly the whole structure with them.
The angels worked overtime I believe 🙏🏻🙏🏻
Yes – but the firefighters did too, especially the brave ones who climbed up those towers with their hoses. To see them in that documentary was inspiring!
I would say they each had their own personal guardian angels as I used to tell my late father-in-law 💕
100 Country Trek
We were there during the destruction..so happy to see it being restored
Wow, to have watched this fire must have been a unique experience – so sad to watch such an iconic building burn, but also to see how the efforts to save it largely paid off.
100 Country Trek
Oh no ..were there after the fire ..we saw the destruction of Note Dame.
Oh, now I understand – you didn’t see it BEING destroyed but saw the results afterwards!
Thanks for the update and photos, Sarah. So sad but amazing what was spared.
Thanks Jane, and yes, I find it amazing to see so much still standing and looking relatively untouched!
Oh, the Places We See
Thank you so much for posting these shots. I don’t know when I’ll get back to Paris, if ever. But I’ve been so interested in what has transpired regarding the cathedral. I appreciate your time and effort to post these.
Thank you 🙂 I think all of us who have been to Paris and seen Notre Dame, will be following the progress of this restoration to see how it recovers from that dreadful fire.
It looks like the job is progressing well, Sarah. There must have been some of the famous gargoyles damaged? I must admit that though horrified at the time I didn’t follow the aftermath.
I’m not sure of the details Jo but I would imagine some of the gargoyles would have been damaged to some extent at least. But the worst damage was to the spire, which collapsed completely, and the roof with what they called the ‘forest’ of timbers that supported it.
Thanks for your updated photos Sarah! Although I’ve never seen Notre Dame (in real life), it was very sad to see how the fire raged out of this beautiful building … and to read your story of people coming together to save what was possible, is just incredible.
Yes – that BBC film was amazing, showing the huge efforts made at the time to save what was possible. And now these hoardings show how much work is going into the restoration and highlight in the same way the different people involved and the contributions they are making 🙂
Thanks for sharing the progress Sarah.
🤩 My pleasure!
Thank-you for this update, Sarah. I watched it burn on tv, and was just heartsick. I’m so glad to see progress on the repairs.
Thank you for visiting Rose – I hoped that people would be encouraged to see the progress being made, as I don’t think it’s had much publicity, outside France at least.
I’ll come back to look at images later Sarah as I’m on my phone. So grateful they are making it a restoration rather than adding a new structure. 🤗💕
I agree Jo – I often rather like the ‘new added to old’ style of architecture (e.g. the Louvre pyramid) but on this occasion I think it’s right to preserve the integrity of the original design 🙂
Yes, I well remember watching the fire on television (livestream of a French news channel, actually) two days before I was to leave for Paris. Thanks for sharing your very recent photos.
Thank you Don – I thought you might find these interesting 🙂
I did not know that they have made so much progress.I am glad they decided agsinst the modern spire.
Yes, I feel that was the right decision too, given the iconic nature of this cathedral and its great age