Notre-Dame rebuild could take a decade
The smoke around the Notre-Dame has settled signalling the first steps towards the cathedral's restoration in what experts are calling the biggest church reconstruction of the century.
The monument to French-Gothic architecture and the Catholic faith succumbed to fire on Monday with two-thirds of its roof, wooden framework and 93-metre spire now destroyed.
French billionaires and multinational companies have spearheaded fundraising efforts and provided more than one billion dollars towards the daunting task of rebuilding the 850-year-old cathedral.
French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to finish the job within five years, a claim which medieval art history professor Paul Binski likened to US President John F Kennedy's rousing speech to get America to the moon. Morale boosting and ambitious.
"It's what young aspirational presidents say," the University of Cambridge professor told News Corp Australia.
"The thing is conserving buildings after this sort of trauma is a complicated business."
Prof Binski expects the cathedral repairs to take closer to a decade, noting it would be the biggest church reconstruction undertaken in this century.
France's Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe this week announced an architectural competition to redesign the spire aimed at "giving Notre-Dame a spire adapted to techniques and challenges of our time".
Australian professor and cultural adviser Richard Mackay, who was in Paris for meetings with UNESCO when tragedy struck the cathedral, said it was "too early to understand the full physical impacts of the tragedy".
"Decisions will need to be made about how to undertake the works; whether to reconstruct faithfully or to introduce new materials or design elements," he said.
"These decisions should have primary regard to retaining or returning attributes of heritage value. But - there may also be opportunities to make the building stronger, or more fireproof - or to improve facilities using new technologies."
Prof Mackay, an International Council on Monuments and Sites Adviser, said the project presented an opportunity to increase the number of people trained in traditional trades which would build "heritage capacity for future generations".
Regardless of whether the restoration stays true to traditional style or branches out, it will be a lengthy process with Notre-Dame Bishop Patrick Chauvet reportedly telling Parisian business owners the cathedral would be closed for "five to six years".
Restoration has still not been completed on the Reims Cathedral in Paris which was engulfed in flames in 1914 after it was shelled by Germany military. It was fully reopened 24 years later.
The collective shock and public displays of grief that took over the streets nearest Notre-Dame on Monday night gave way to curiosity in the days that followed as thousands crowded the banks of the River Seine.
Tourists and locals posed for photographs and selfies with the partially-destroyed building in a bid to cement themselves into the fabric of the historic event.
Police officers were on scene directing traffic, forced to push jaywalkers back into heaving crowds away from motorists who expressed their frustrations with a cacophony of horns and expletives.
Just as everyone remembers where they were when they heard of the 9/11 attacks, "where were you when Notre-Dame burned?" may become a question that enters the world's collective narrative.
When American couple Patty and Kevin Meehan are asked that question, they will say they were on their way to a dinner cruise on the River Seine which went ahead despite the horror taking place near its banks.
"We got on the cruise, but they couldn't make it all the way down to Notre-Dame," Mrs Meehan told News Corp Australia while on her way to join the throng of onlookers.
Budding Brisbane photographer Amelie Edwards, 13, was supposed to visit the Notre-Dame during her final days in Paris with her mother, Simone Skaff.
Robbed of the chance to capture images of the spring sunshine dancing through the cathedral's stained-glass rose windows and its imposing belfry, Amelie instead documented the fire's aftermath.
Ms Skaff had the pleasure of visiting the cathedral frequently during her time living in Paris, but lamented being unable to share the experience with her daughter.
"I'm gutted. It feels like a huge piece of world history is gone," she said.
"It's one of those things where you think you'll never be in the right place at the right time to experience something so monumental, but here we are.
"They say things like 'rebuild', how do you rebuild?"
Artist and Parisian Eric Richards sells artwork from a stall near the cathedral and watched a live stream of the disaster unfold with bated breath.
The next day he arrived at work to find the streets the busiest he'd ever seen and was overcome with relief the damage wasn't as bad as he expected.
Eric praised the work of the firefighters who helped saved the Notre-Dame from further destruction, but said Paris was feeling a shared sadness.
"Most people are shocked, some are questioning 'how did it happen?'," he said.
"It is really important; it's the centre of Paris. It's the most important building in Paris."
Regardless of whether Macron's promise of a quick rebuild is fanciful, the firm stance brings feelings of relief to Parisians like Eric who looks toward the future of Notre-Dame with hope in his heart.
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