'Colossal' Notre Dame rebuild will take 15 years, not Macron's promised five, say experts

Connor Parker
A massive fire on Monday ravaged the 850-year-old Gothic building, destroying much of its roof and causing its spire to collapse. (Getty)
A massive fire on Monday ravaged the 850-year-old Gothic building, destroying much of its roof and causing its spire to collapse. (Getty)

Architects have said it could take up to 15 years to restore Notre Dame after French President Emmanuel Macron promised it would be done in five.

In an address to the nation days after the famous 800-year cathedral suffered severe damage from a fire, Mr Macron said the renovations to restore the iconic 19th-century spire, vaulting and two-thirds of its roof of the building would be completed in time for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“We will rebuild the cathedral to be even more beautiful and I want it to be finished within five years,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron sits at his desk after addressing the French nation following a massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, at Elysee Palace in Paris, Tuesday, April 16 2019. Macron said he wants to see the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral to be rebuilt within five years. (Yoan Valat, Pool via AP)
President Macron said he wanted to see the Cathedral restored within five years and for it to be more beautiful than ever. (AP)

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who officially supported Mr Macron's timeframe, acknowledged that it would be difficult.

“This is obviously an immense challenge, a historic responsibility,” Mr Philippe said.

Experts have questioned if five years is enough time for such a massive operation.

France's prime minister Edouard Philippe delivers a speech during a French Naturalization Ceremony, at the Pantheon, in Paris, Thursday, March 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool)
France's prime minister Edouard Philippe admitted restoring Notre Dame in five years would be challenging. (AP)

Prominent French conservation architect Pierluigi Pericolo, who worked on the restoration of the 19th century Saint-Donatien basilica which was badly damaged by fire in 2015 in Nantes, told Inrocks magazine it could take triple that time.

“No less than 15 years … it’s a colossal task,” Mr Pericolo said.

He said the first stage of the operation would take “two to five years” and that would just be to check the stability of the massive cathedral that dominates the Paris skyline.

“It’s a fundamental step, and very complex because it’s difficult to send workers into a monument whose vaulted ceilings are swollen with water,” Mr Pericolo told France-Info.

Much of the roof was damaged in the fire, and experts say it will take years to access the stability of the church. (Getty)
Much of the roof was damaged in the fire, and experts say it will take years to access the stability of the church. (Getty)

“The end of the fire doesn’t mean the edifice is totally saved. The stone can deteriorate when it is exposed to high temperatures and change its mineral composition and fracture inside.”

Notre Dame’s rector said he would close cathedral to all tourists and services for “five to six years” acknowledging that “a segment” of the near 900-year-old edifice may be gravely weakened.

As more news of the disastrous fire emerges, people are taking heart in all of the objects that were saved from the inferno, especially the Cathedral's ancient rose windows.

This general view shows the damaged roof of the Notre-Dame-de Paris Cathedral in Paris on April 16, 2019, a day after a fire that devastated the building in the centre of the French capital. - Pledges from French billionaires, businesses and the public sector to help rebuild Notre-Dame cathedral have reached nearly 700 million euros (790 million dollars) amid an outpouring of public support for one of Europe's most iconic monuments. (Photo by Christophe PETIT TESSON / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Much of the roof was damaged in the fire. (Getty)

Spokesman Gabriel Plus told reporters the rose windows were “in good condition” but that “there is a risk for the gables that are no longer supported by the frame”.

He praised firefighters who took down statues inside the gables above the rose windows to protect them and took care not to spray water too hard on the delicate stained glass.

In a sign of how big the operation to restore the building will be Mr Plus said firefighters and experts are still determining how much damage the structure suffered and what needs to be dismantled to avoid collapse.

File photo dated 01/03/15 of the North Rose stained glass window at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, which is feared to have been destroyed by fire.
The famous rose windows inside the cathedral were saved from the fire, although concerns have been raised about the supports that keep it in place. (PA)

A Paris fire official said the towers of Notre Dame would have fallen if firefighters had not deployed massive equipment and acted swiftly.

Philippe Demay denied there was any delay and said firefighters acted as fast as they could.

Mr Demay told reporters that the operation was extremely difficult and that the towers could have collapsed “if we hadn’t put heavy equipment in place”.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 file photo CEO of LVMH Bernard Arnault arrives to present the group's 2018 results during a conference in Paris. As the France woke up in collective sadness at the fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral, its richest businessman, Bernard Arnault, and his luxury goods group LVMH answered that call with a pledge of 200 million euros ($226 million). A communique said that the Arnault family was "in solidarity with this national tragedy, and join in the reconstruction of this extraordinary cathedral, a symbol of France, of its heritage and togetherness."(AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
Bernard Arnault, the billionaire owner of L'Oreal, pledged €200m to help pay for the restoration of the cathedral. (AP)

Almost a billion euros has poured in from ordinary worshippers and high-powered magnates around the world to help fund the restoration.

Presidential cultural heritage envoy Stephane Bern told broadcaster France-Info on Wednesday that 880 million euro (£762 million) has been raised in just a day-and-a-half since the fire.

Experts have been quick to estimate the restoration would cost into to the hundreds of millions and not billions, although it is too early to be certain.

A picture taken in Marsac-sur-Isle near Bordeaux, on April 16, 2019 shows statues which sat around the spire of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, stored in SOCRA workshop before restoration. - Paris was struck in its very heart as flames devoured the roof of Notre-Dame cathedral, causing a spire to collapse and raising fears over the future of the nearly millenium old building and its precious artworks. The sixteen statues which sitted around the spire of the cathedral, 12 apostles and the 4 evangelists commisioned in the 1860s during the great restoration of the cathedral by Viollet-le-Duc, have been removed in April to be sent in southwest France for restoration. (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP)        (Photo credit should read GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images)
Fortunately, many of the copper statues that were usually inside the cathedral had been removed for planned renovation works. (GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images)

Mr Philippe said a competition will be held to see if the spire should be rebuilt.

“The international competition will allow for the question to be asked, should the spire be rebuilt?” he said. “Should we rebuild the spire envisaged and built by Viollet-le-Duc under the same conditions … (or) give Notre Dame a new spire adapted to the technologies and the challenges of our times?”

Viollet-le-Duc was a famous French architect who restored many of Frances medieval buildings in the 1800s, including Notre Dame, that had suffered centuries of neglect.