Five years after devastating fire, race to rebuild Notre-Dame gains pace

Europe  RFIMelissa Chemam
© RFI/Melissa Chemam

Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral, ravaged by a fire in April 2019, is on track to reopen on schedule and under budget by December 2024, five years later, the head of the reconstruction has said.

"We are meeting deadlines and budget," Philippe Jost, who heads the public body overseeing the project, told a French Senate committee last week.

Jost praised the work of the 250 companies and artisan groups involved in the reconstruction, which began in spring 2022 after rubble had been cleared and the foundations secured.

Signs the that project is nearing completion are clear. In February, some of the scaffolding was removed to unveil the cathedral's new spire, adorned with a golden rooster and a cross.

The rooster, reimagined as a dramatic phoenix with licking, flamed feathers, symbolises resilience amid destruction after the devastating fire, officials said.

An anti-fire misting system is also being added under the cathedral's roof.

The installation of the lead roof itself, which melted during the fire, is ongoing. The outer layer will be laid on a solid oak frame, rebuilt with dowelled wood and no metal bolts using techniques dating back hundreds of years.

Behind the remaining scaffolding, hundreds of workers are still racing against the clock to restore the rest of the cathedral in time for it to reopen its doors to the public.

Multiple delays

Rebuilding was delayed by decontamination efforts, after more than 300 tonnes of lead from the roof melted in the fire.

Authorities then had to halt work several times over the first winter due to high winds, before France went into Covid lockdown in early 2020.

Another setback came when the French army general in charge of the restoration, Jean-Louis Georgelin, died suddenly in August 2023 during a mountain hike. Jost replaced him last year.

The budget for the reconstruction is expected to stay below the €550 million allocated, leaving another €150 million unspent.

The surplus will go towards "urgent" restoration of the cathedral's stone exterior to be carried out from 2025, Jost said.

Unforgettable fire

The cathedral was built over two centuries between 1163 and 1345.

It was first restored in the 19th century under the planning of French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who also helped design the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.

The fire broke out on the evening of 15 April 2019, beginning in the roof space and raging for around three hours.

More than 400 firefighters battled to save the monument. While they couldn't save the spire from collapsing, the cathedral's two towers remained standing.

Major religious and artistic treasures kept inside the cathedral were carried to safety as the fire began.

Authorities have not found any evidence to suggest that the blaze was anything other than an accident.

An initial investigation conducted in the months after the fire concluded it may have been caused by an electrical malfunction.