On Monday 15th of April 2019, a fire broke under the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It burned for about 15 hours and caused tremendous damage: the building´s spire and most of its roof have been destroyed, and its upper walls severely damaged. These are the damages we can see, but what about the invisible ones, the ones that time will reveal? Thousands of litres of water were used that night to master the flames; it was of course necessary but will probably not be without consequences. The stone has been soaked, and the drying process that will occur over time might weaken the stone itself, the joints, and consequently the whole structure of the building.
At the time of writing these words, the bill for the reconstruction of Notre Dame is yet to be presented in the Council of Ministers. The plan is to allow the French government to legislate by order to ease the constraints of future reconstruction work. Basically, there would be more flexibility, with fewer procedures, authorisations and committee reviews. This means that there would be no chief architect of historical monuments, as there usually is on a project of this magnitude .
The world is full of examples of restoration projects that went wrong, because of financial issues or a lack of expertise. This is why international laws and rules were created to provide a framework for the conservation of listed artworks and buildings. I can’t see any reason why the conservation project of Notre Dame would bypass these very rules, and what would motivate the French government to bend the law to achieve the work.
When President Macron promises to rebuild the Cathedral in the next five years, it doesn’t sound right. How is that even possible to already consider a dead-line now, so quickly after the incident, when it is still too soon to establish a proper diagnose? When some of the damages are yet to be discovered? Five years! What kind of dead-line is that when preserving one of the world’s cherished jewels is at stake?
Conservation and restoration of cultural heritage should not come with a political agenda. No matter how many people will be put on the job and how much money will be spent, some things just should not be rushed.