The first stage of the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris was officially launched this week as the eight exceptional oak trees that will be used to rebuild the spire of the cathedral left the Bercé forest in the Sarthe region, 200 kilometres from Paris.
Experts have been scouring forests across France to select 1,000 developed oaks with long, straight trunks that can be used in the spire and roof of the Gothic cathedral, which was ravaged by fire in April 2019.
The first four were loaded onto a heavy goods trailer by crane on Thursday in the forest of Bercé near Le Mans, 200 kilometres from Paris, with another four set to follow on Friday.
"We're lucky to be working with these exceptional specimens," Mickael Durand, manager of the sawmill selected to cut them, told French news agency AFP.
"We're working with 15 tonnes and you can't make any mistakes... "They're maybe 300 years old."
The trees will be cut up and stored for 12 to 18 months to prepare them for use in the reconstruction phase which is set to begin in late 2022.
Oaks from all over France
A thousand oak trees from all over France were donated, mostly from five regions (Burgundy, Centre-Val de Loire, Grand Est, Pays de la Loire, Normandy) for the reconstruction of the spire. Half of them come from public forests and half from nearly 150 private forests.
All 1,000 oak trees will be transported to sawmills in the next few weeks to be sawn and cut up during the summer.
Once cut, they will have to dry for 12 to 18 months, to reach a moisture content of less than 30%, and be made available to carpenters.
More than 800 million euros has been received or pledged from private and corporate donors for the painstaking rebuild of the 13th-century masterpiece.
While the spire collapsed and much of the roof was destroyed on 15 April 2019, the efforts of firefighters ensured that one of the most famous buildings in the French capital survived the night.
The re-opening of Notre-Dame cathedral is planned for April 2024.