France's iconic Notre-Dame resumes restoration as country begins to reopen
French renovation teams aim complete work on Notre-Dame Cathedral in time for the fifth anniversary of its 2019 fire despite the COVID-19 lockdown, the project leader said on Sunday, as admirers were allowed back into the adjoining square.
Casual passersby and faithful alike flocked to the Parvis de Notre-Dame as the square reopened with the partial lifting of lockdown restrictions.
Coronavirus delayed work
The coronavirus pandemic "has unquestionably delayed the work", said Jean-Louis Georgelin, the army general put in charge of the mammoth rebuilding programme.
But the goal remains to reopen for religious services in April 2024, Georgelin said, standing in front of the closed-off cathedral grounds. "There's no reason to believe it cannot be met - we'll have to find a way to catch up."
One year since
Firefighters battled through the night on April 15, 2019 to save the cathedral from the blaze which ravaged its roof and dramatically toppled the steeple.
Macron had promised a herculean effort to have the UNESCO heritage site restored in time for the Paris Olympics of 2024.
The toxic blaze!
But even before the coronavirus pandemic struck, work had been delayed by decontamination efforts. More than 300 tonnes of lead from the roof melted in the blaze, covering the site in toxic particles.
The fragile structure remains at risk, and massive wooden beams are propping up the arches and gables.
Notre Dame with 'modern touch'?
Officials still have to decide a crucial question: Rebuild the cathedral exactly as it was, using traditional techniques and materials, or incorporate a modern touch?
Macron has said he is in favour of a "contemporary" touch for the spire.
But the project's chief architect Philippe Villeneuve has refused to countenance any glass spire, rooftop garden or other modernistic proposals and opinion polls suggest most French people agree with him.
Mind-boggling amount for restoration
More than 900 million euros (nearly $1 billion) have been given or pledged by some 340,000 companies and individuals worldwide to restore the cathedral.
Renovation workers returned to the site six weeks after the pandemic halted operations. But health rules that remain in place are still limiting the pace of work, officials say.