Reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris reached a turning point this week. The removal of the final portions of the scaffolding that melted into a twisted web during last year’s blaze led French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot to declare the once-imperiled landmark “saved”, and crucial protective and stabilisation work can now proceed.
Delicate work to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral began in June to clear away the 200 tonnes of tangled tubes that surrounded the cathedral’s spire when it collapsed as millions watched in horror on the banks of the Seine river and around the world on April 15, 2019.
The spire and other parts of the roof were undergoing renovation work when the fire erupted, threatening to destroy the 13th-century gothic landmark.
But while the monument’s walls remained standing, the extensive heat and loss of much of the oak roof framework compromised their structural integrity.
The mass of molten scaffolding – some 40,000 metal tubes, caked in leaden dust and debris and suspended dozens of metres above the cathedral’s floor – also risked crashing to the ground.
The removal of the tangled mass was considered dangerous, with some experts fearing that it could cause more of the Gothic monument to fall down. It was also thought that the scaffolding might have melded to the cathedral in the blaze, and be keeping it in place.
Culture Minister Bachelot was on hand on Tuesday as the final pieces were removed, accompanied by Jean-Louis Georgelin, the army general overseeing the restoration.
“The threat this scaffolding posed to the cathedral has been lifted,” Georgelin said. “Now we can tackle the final safeguarding steps.”
“I feel a profound emotion. When you enter the martyrized nave, you have tears in your eyes,” Bachelot said.
“Notre-Dame is saved, we know that as of today,” the minister told the lower-house National Assembly’s fact-finding committee on Tuesday evening after the visit. “The fear over the solidity of the structure is definitively behind us,” Bachelot added. But, she said, “the path remains long and the phase of securing and consolidating will continue until the summer of 2021.”
Before removing the damaged scaffolding tubes, workers had to enclose them within a new network of scaffolding to ensure that the mangled mesh of tubing would not move. Yet another metal grid was then erected so that workers could be lowered in by ropes to carefully cut the tubes apart. The collapse of a single piece could have threatened the stability of the entire weakened edifice.
Sections were then lifted out by a crane towering 80 metres (260 feet) above the cathedral. In late October, workers were finally able to reach and stabilise a massive beam that threatened to drop into the transept.
The renovation work has been slowed by delays due to rough weather last winter, concerns over lead pollution from the fallout of the roof that went up in smoke, and most recently the coronavirus pandemic, which brought work on the site to a standstill during France’s first Covid-19 lockdown in the spring.
In July, French President Emmanuel Macron said the spire would be rebuilt to its original form, bringing to a close the heated controversy over that emblematic element of the cathedral’s restoration. Macron had initially called for a “contemporary” touch in the rebuild.
The president has vowed to have Notre-Dame rebuilt in five years – by 2024, the year the city of Paris is slated to host the Olympic Summer Games – though some architects have warned that such a massive project could take much longer.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)