Notre Dame de Paris survives, and will be restored

Other than a collapse that occurred at one end, it is unclear at this point how much damage was suffered by the stone vault. Intense heating of the stone just below the roof may still lead to additional failures, or require some very careful removal of weakened material, but it appears that the massive columns and buttresses that support the 12th-century structure are intact.

Notre Dame will be rebuilt.

The New York Times reports that the family of Bernard Arnault, who owns the luxury brands Hennessy and Louis Vuitton, plans to contribute €200 million toward rebuilding Notre Dame. The family of François-Henri Pinault, owner of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent and husband of actor Salma Hayek, has pledged €100 million. A public fundraising drive is being organized to bring in still more.

Replacing the roof structure in the same way it was built before will not be easy. The sheer number of beams and cross-braces required between 10,000 and 15,000 trees, most of which were over 300 years in age at the time they were cut. A grove of better than 50 acres composed of 300-year-old oaks is not exactly a common sight anywhere in modern France—or anywhere in the world.

Replacing the roof and its supporting structure will require a choice: Is this an art restoration project, meant to return the cathedral to a state as close as possible to when it was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, or is the intention to restore Notre Dame as a working building that can last out another nine centuries? Updating the materials used in creating the roof and spire could restore the building’s look, while making it more structurally secure and protecting against a recurrence of the events on Monday. 

The ancient wooden beams were a known issue, and fire inspectors already ascended into the rafters of Notre Dame three times a day for inspections. Replacing all that wood would be romantic, in the traditional sense of the word, but a bit of aluminum might be a better choice for an area that 99 percent of the building’s visitors never see. However, those decisions are yet to be made.

While some cheering early reports had indicated that all of the cathedral’s relics and irreplaceable art had been removed safely, there were some items that were not easily taken out, including several large paintings and sculptures. Most of these appear to be safe, but until inspectors determine the safety of working inside the building, it won’t be possible to recover remaining items or assess their state completely. The massive organ, containing 8,000 pipes and last updated in the 18th century,  appears to have survived.

The first smoke detector sounded in the attic of the building just after 6 PM on Monday, though on an initial visit to the area, inspectors were unable to find the source of the problem.  It was only half an hour later that a second alarm sounded and flames were spotted, but by then the heavy, dry oak beams were already engulfed. Almost 400 firefighters responded immediately, following plans made for just such an event, and fought the flames until 3:30 AM on Tuesday, when they declared the fire out.

Inspectors are looking into the source of the fire, but have no reason to believe it was anything other than an accident. Notre Dame de Paris survived the French Revolution and two world wars, but this would not be the first time it was altered. The building was extensively remodeled in the 18th century, and the spire that fell on Monday dates from that period. For much of the 19th century, Notre Dame was in near-ruins, and there was even talk of destroying the structure. 

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