Melted scaffolding is removed from Notre Dame Cathedral a year after its tragic fire

With rebuilding plans (mostly) finalized and a firm 2024 deadline set, it looks like the reconstruction of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral is chugging ahead. Last week, on November 24, the French government cleared away 200 tons of mangled steel scaffolding left ruined by the fire, both a symbolic and structural victory.

The scaffolding had originally been erected around the 800-year-old cathedral as part of the spire and roof restoration that potentially sparked the fire on April 15, 2019. Although the tangle of supports was supposed to stabilize the interior and exterior during the renovation, it was left twisted, weakened, and potentially melted to the building. Fearing the scaffolding could collapse and further endanger the already precarious structure, the 40,000 tubes were finally removed by the government’s restoration team.

“The threat this scaffolding posed to the cathedral has been lifted,” said General Jean-Louis Georgelin, who was appointed by President to oversee the restoration. “Now we can tackle the final safeguarding steps.”

To remove the damaged metal, restorers first enclosed it in even more scaffolding before descending by rope, cutting away the steel piece-by-piece, and lifting it up and out of the way. Removing the remnants of the fire was especially dangerous as it was preventing the further stabilization of the now structurally unsound building; the partial loss of the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling threw off the complex system of flying buttresses, columns, counterweights, and vaults that kept the ceiling and walls in balance. With the scaffolding out of the way, Notre Dame should be stabilized by summer of 2021; then the real restoration work can begin, including the installation of a 300-foot-tall spire replacement faithful to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s 1859 original.

Although it’s only been 17 months since the cathedral was gutted, the icon’s reconstruction has been plagued with delays and squabbles. Whether it be the coronavirus pandemic, construction site thieves, plumes of lead cast over the city by the fire, or just arguments over what exactly will be rebuilt, the process hasn’t been smooth sailing. But, now that things are seemingly on track, that 2024 deadline (just in time for the Summer Olympics in Paris), seems much more feasible.

In the meantime, PBS’s hourlong documentary about the battle to save the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Saving Notre Dame, is now totally free to watch online.

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