The reconstruction works of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris have an enormous little-known complexity that was exposed this Saturday with a live television broadcast, in which the challenge of trying to return a temple from the Middle Ages to its former splendor was shown.
Stonemasons, carpenters, stone carvers, restorers, scaffolding specialists and workers at heights continue their complex work on a project whose completion is scheduled for spring 2024, just five years after the serious fire of 2019.
The cathedral suffered a fire on April 15 last year, apparently caused by restoration works, and the incident destroyed the roof and the famous spire of the temple, in addition to causing significant damage to the entire building.
The public body ‘Rebuild Notre Dame ‘ and the cultural television channel Arte joined forces today to show live through various social networks and from within what the restoration works are like, with interviews with managers and workers, on the occasion of the European Days of Cultural Heritage.
“Considerable work has been done in a year and a half,” General Jean-Louis Georgelin, president of the institution, said during the broadcast. Although the works were stopped between March 16 and April 27 due to confinement Due to the pandemic, Georgelin hoped to complete the restoration on time.
He also stressed the importance of workers in traditional crafts little recognized in these modern times, such as stonemasons, stone carvers or glassmakers, who are “extremely proud” to show the value of their skills.
5,500 pieces and 2,000 meters of scaffolding
The works are possible thanks to a scaffolding system that totals 5,500 pieces, with a workspace of 2,000 square meters.
The concern due to total safety, not only due to the possible fall of unstable elements (already consolidated) or for accidents, but also for prevent lead contamination, a metal very present in the cathedral, explains Georgelin.
One of the most striking chapters of these works is being the disassembly of the huge cathedral organ, 8,000 tubes, which, although they were not affected by the flames, did suffer the entry of ashes.
Disassembling the tubes for cleaning, which began in August, is “an impressive job” and constitutes “a job within a job,” explained Jonathan Truillet, deputy head of operations.
The objective is to rebuild the damaged or destroyed elements as they were originally, especially the famous 96-meter-high spire, which had 250 tons of lead. The total budget exceeds 900 million euros, of which at least 160 million were allocated to the first consolidation and protection works.
Workers at height hanging from cables
The works have the valuable contribution of 35 workers at height (called “rope players”), specialists who operate hanging from cables, such as climbers, and perform all kinds of tasks.
His job is to help ensure the safety of the walls and other architectural elements, as well as “help other workers and reach where traditional means do not reach,” says Xavier Rodríguez, both a specialist and also president of the company. Jarnias.
The final person in charge of the works is Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect of historical monuments of France, who emphasizes that Notre Dame has become “an extraordinary archaeological site thanks to this accident”, since “each piece” is recovered “for expert analysis”.
Villeneuve showed the progress of the restoration work on the chapel of San Fernando, which was not affected by the fire but was “very dirty” by soot and some pieces of stone. The cleaning is recovering the original color of both some paintings and the stone. In the latter, tests are carried out with different concentrations of products, to determine which is the ideal one to achieve the most natural tone.
Master glassmakers also carry out important work in cleaning polychrome stained glass. “It was a great miracle that the windows were not affected by the fire,” she stressed.
Outside the works but almost next to the cathedral, master carpenters today offer the public a demonstration of the construction of part of the wooden structure that supported the roof.
Begun in 1163 but completed almost two centuries later and undergoing a thorough restoration in the 19th century, the cathedral became the symbol of Paris and the pride of its inhabitants thanks in part to the novelist Victor Hugo, which is why the fire of the year The past was both a severe blow and a reason for unity for the Parisians.