Notre Dame fire could have been worse

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In the wake of the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral, civil engineering and architectural experts – not to mention historical authorities – will be gearing up to restore the damaged building. French President Emmanuel Macron has provided a timeline of just 5 years for the rebuilding efforts, stating “we will rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral, more beautiful than ever.”

Notre Dame fire could have been worseThe Cathedral of Notre-Dame is among the most famous landmarks in Paris, drawing about 13 million visitors a year. Built on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine, Notre Dame took 182 years to complete – construction began in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII, and was completed in 1345.

While close to 50 investigators have been appointed to determine the cause of the fire, recent renovation work is being blamed. According to Pierre Housieaux, the president of the Paris-Historique historic preservation society, there have been three disastrous fires at historic monuments in the last decade, each tied to renovations. This opinion is backed by the Getty Conservation Institute, which says that the majority of fires at cultural institutions occur during renovation or construction.

This is not the first time that the cathedral has been damaged seriously. It was damaged and neglected in the 1790s, during the French Revolution, and many additional architectural features have been added over the years. Between 1844 and 1864, architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc redid the spire and flying buttresses.

Among the parts of the church worst affected by the fire was also one of the newest: The spire, which was built in the 19th century. That will have to be rebuilt entirely, as will the far older roof structure, known as “the forest”. The 13th century framework is called the forest because it literally required a forest of trees to build it. Unfortunately, this was all lost, and would have exacerbated the blaze, as the beams would have become tinder-dry as they aged.

Despite the fact that the structure hasn’t even been stabilised yet following the fire, experts have already come out to say that restoring Notre Dame with traditional techniques is “quite achievable”. In 1984, lightning sparked a catastrophic fire at York Minster, a Gothic cathedral built around the same time as Notre Dame. That church was restored with the help of craftspeople who used traditional materials to repair the cathedral’s damaged roof, stained glass, and other elements. Thankfully, most of Notre Dame’s stained glass remains intact.

Unfortunately, other religious, cultural and historical treasures were lost in the fire. However, a number were saved by the brave efforts of almost 500 fire fighters, including the “crown of thorns”, which many believe was the crown worn by Christ at his crucifixion, and the tunic of Saint Louis.

While the fire’s effects are undoubtedly catastrophic, the outpouring of support by the French business community and international donors will ensure plentiful funds to fix Notre Dame. In the first few hours after the fire, hundreds of millions of Euros had already been pledged for the effort. Experts have pointed to other fires at historical sites, such as the one that engulfed the UK's Windsor Castle in 1992, which were followed by restoration projects that resulted in the buildings ending up in a better state than they were before disaster struck.

And ultimately, the fact that most of the structure remains intact means that the fire of 2019 will become yet another part of the church’s history, and Notre Dame will remain a must-see destination for tourists from across the globe. It could have been worse – the entire building could have been destroyed, along with the treasures inside it, and future generations would never have been able to imagine Quasimodo ringing the bells.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.

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