PARIS – Notre Dame Cathedral will be restored exactly as it was before the 2019 fire that destroyed much of the historic landmark, the French government announced Thursday evening.
“The President of the Republic became convinced of the need to restore Notre-Dame de Paris as closely as possible to its last complete state, coherent and well-known, while betting on sustainable development in the choice of materials and site management,” read a statement from the Élysée Palace, the official seat of the French presidency.
After the April 2019 fire that destroyed most of the cathedral’s roof, including its iconic 19th-century spire by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, architects were invited to submit proposals for how to restore Notre Dame, one of the most visited sites in Paris that occupies a storied position in the history and myth of the French capital.
From the beginning, there was an intense debate over the cathedral’s restoration, with various scholars and political conservatives opposing any proposed changes that would have modernized the design. Those anxieties were put to rest Thursday, when the government officially announced the structure would be rebuilt exactly as it was.
The concern for President Emmanuel Macron was “not to delay the construction site nor to complicate the issue” with a contemporary gesture, according to an Élysée official. But the plans will include an apparent concession to those who preferred a more modern design. The statement said there will be a contemporary dimension in the “redevelopment of the surroundings of the cathedral, in close collaboration with the city of Paris.”
Within days of the April 2019 fire, the restoration project drew philanthropic pledges of about $1 billion from French business tycoons such as Bernard Arnault and François Pinault. But cathedral officials pointed out a few months later that those pledges had been slow to arrive, and the initial phase of the project had been funded by small, individual donations from French and American donors.
After the fire, Macron vowed to have the cathedral rebuilt by the time of the 2024 Olympics, which will be hosted in Paris. But the restoration of the cathedral was put on hold during France’s strict two-month coronavirus lockdown between March and May 2020.
In an address to the nation, Macron assured citizens in April that everything would be done to meet the original deadline.