The Watch

Notre-Dame of Paris

Paris, France

In the evening of April 15, 2019 the world held its breath as a massive conflagration rapidly consumed the roof of the cathedral church of Notre-Dame of Paris. The beloved landmark was saved from collapse and major ruin thanks to a skillful and heroic effort to extinguish the fire, lasting long into the night, and streamed live to anxious viewers around the world. The days that followed saw an international outpouring of sympathy for the citizens of Paris and all of France, as the near-loss of a global icon reminded everyone of the depth of human connection to heritage places and of the personal trauma that their loss can bring. In France, a resolute commitment to rebuild was buoyed by private donations, ranging from small amounts to pledges for hundreds of millions of Euros. The suggestion that rebuilding might deviate from the historic form of the roof and spire prompted fervent debate in France and around the world. While many emphasized the importance of recreating the well-known form of the cathedral in the cityscape and shunned any prospect of less-than-identical reconstruction, others expressed a desire for innovation and favored the symbolic potential of a new, contemporary design for the roof and spire. The catastrophic event also pointed to the universal need for emergency preparedness and accurate risk assessment, in the wake of other high-profile blazes including the Mackintosh Building of the Glasgow School of Art and the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.

Today, the stability of the structure remains precarious. High heat causes chemical alteration to limestone that weakens it—but its extent at Notre-Dame is impossible to tell. Structural shoring has been installed throughout the shell of the building, while the disfigured remains of the scaffolding that had been installed for restoration prior to the fire will take many months to remove. At the same time, concerns for worker safety arising from the likely concentration of lead dust on the worksite mean that work must proceed at a slower pace. The process of salvage, planning, and rebuilding is sure to take years, before the beloved cathedral is returned to the community of worshippers, citizens, and other visitors. Notre-Dame of Paris has been included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch to lend moral support and solidarity to experts, workers, and the concerned public on the long road ahead.

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