A year ago, on the 15th of April 2019, Notre-Dame cathedral was burning in front of cameras from all over the world. Today, we remember all the emotions experienced in those hours, the fear of losing forever a church having an exceptional architectural, historical and symbolic value. We remember the vigil of many Parisians, but also of many people around the world, in witnessing the extinguishing operations, which ended in the middle of the night. We remember the speeches on the spur of the moment of President Macron, the first reflections on what to do. We remember the slight relief in noting – at the dawn of the following day – that even without the coverage and the flèche of Viollet-le-Duc, the cathedral was miraculously still standing. Instead we have forgotten, and perhaps it is a good thing, the spasmodic rush to present more or less abstruse projects for its reconstruction, which had piqued the imagination of many architects in the following weeks. We talked about this in the issue 31 of Compasses, published in July 2019, in the article that explicitly titled “Notre-Dame de Paris. NO to the haste of politics, YES to the patient time of restoration”.
How many things have immensely changed since that evening of the last 15th of April, which made many of us reflect on the end of a symbol, on the dissolution of history, even on the loss of a catalytic element of Europe. And how many things have changed even from that article just mentioned.
Exactly one year after the fire, in full Covid-19 emergency, even the large Notre-Dame reconstruction site had to surrender to the virus that threatens our world. This happened in the second half of March, when all of France adopted progressively stricter confinement measures for the whole population.
The complex building site of Notre-Dame had already started many months earlier and it was concentrating on the difficult operations of securing and dismantling the metal scaffolding that surrounded the cathedral before the fire. In fact, after the deformations of steel due to the fire, the scaffolding became a real “mikado”, threatening to collapse suddenly and unpredictably, making its disassembly, realizable with cranes that can only work from the top, an extremely difficult operation. Carlo Blasi, a great expert in structural restoration, consultant for the task force for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame thanks to his rich CV, which also includes the restoration of the Panthéon in Paris, talked about this in one of his lectures held on the 14th of February 2019 at the School of Specialization in Architectural Heritage and Landscape of the University of Naples Federico II. Then nothing seemed to presage the stop of this immense machine for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame. Instead, it happened a few weeks later. The reopening of the square in front of the cathedral and of its archaeological crypt was scheduled for March, but even this had to be postponed to better times.
Yet, in this scenario of disheartening desolation, Notre-Dame itself can symbolically represent our hope for reconstruction. This is also testified by the choice of the archbishop of Paris to hold, in the transept of the Cathedral, under the remains of the vaults still blackened by the smoke of fire, a special ceremony last Good Friday to demonstrate – despite the serious destruction – that life it is still present within those walls.That life we all hope to find again soon in our daily gestures, in our actions, and even in the pitiful restoration and reconstruction work that this monument deserves.
Picture credits: Notre-Dame, Paris. The fire in its early stages, April the 15th 2019, 7:15 pm (Wikimedia Commons)