The Creation & Restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Animated

With The Hunch­back of Notre-Dame, Vic­tor Hugo intend­ed less to tell a sto­ry than to mount a defense of Goth­ic archi­tec­ture, which in the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry was being demol­ished in cities all across France. The book’s orig­i­nal pur­pose is more clear­ly reflect­ed by its orig­i­nal title, Notre-Dame de Paris. 1482, and the tit­u­lar medieval cathe­dral’s impor­tance to the cap­i­tal for near­ly two cen­turies now owes a great deal to the nov­el­ist’s advo­ca­cy. Hugo would no doubt be pleased by the effort that has gone into pre­serv­ing Notre-Dame into the 21st cen­tu­ry, share in the feel­ings of dev­as­ta­tion that fol­lowed the fire of April 2019, and admire the spir­it that moti­vat­ed com­mence­ment of the restora­tion work imme­di­ate­ly there­after.

Or rather, the com­mence­ment of the sta­bi­liza­tion work imme­di­ate­ly there­after: giv­en the extent of the dam­age, the then-674-year-old struc­ture had first to be made safe to restore. The AFP News Agency video above explains and visu­al­izes that process, a com­plex and dif­fi­cult one in itself. The first pri­or­i­ty was to pro­tect the exposed areas of the cathe­dral from the ele­ments and shore up their fly­ing but­tress­es (a sig­na­ture struc­tur­al ele­ment of Goth­ic archi­tec­ture) to pre­vent col­lapse.

Melt­ed togeth­er by the fire, sec­tions of scaf­fold­ing that had been set up for pre­vi­ous restora­tion work also posed con­sid­er­able dif­fi­cul­ties to remove with­out harm­ing the build­ing. As for the rub­ble heaped inside, sort­ing through it required con­duct­ing a 3D scan, then bring­ing in remote-con­trolled robots and a team of archae­ol­o­gists.

“I saw the dis­as­ter unfold­ing before me,” says one such archae­ol­o­gist, Olivi­er Puaux, in the Radio France Inter­na­tionale video just above. “It was so sad that I went home before the spire fell.” But just a month lat­er he returned to work on the ambi­tious restora­tion project, sev­er­al of whose work­ers appear to share their expe­ri­ence with its chal­lenges, dan­gers, and per­haps unex­pect­ed learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. Remov­ing and sort­ing through all the fall­en wood, stone, and oth­er mate­ri­als — some of which came through the blaze in re-usable con­di­tion — has pro­vid­ed new insights into the cathe­dral’s con­struc­tion. Even its very nails, says Puaux, turn out on close inspec­tion to be “very large, very well forged.” As dis­tressed as Vic­tor Hugo may have felt about Notre-Dame’s future, its orig­i­nal builders were sure­ly con­fi­dent that they were cre­at­ing a sur­vivor.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Dig­i­tal Scans of Notre Dame Can Help Archi­tects Rebuild the Burned Cathe­dral

A Vir­tu­al Time-Lapse Recre­ation of the Build­ing of Notre Dame (1160)

Paris in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images from 1890: The Eif­fel Tow­er, Notre Dame, The Pan­théon, and More (1890)

Notre Dame Cap­tured in an Ear­ly Pho­to­graph, 1838

Take an Aer­i­al Tour of Medieval Paris

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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