News and Commentary

French Senate Defies Macron, Says Notre Dame Should Be Rebuilt Exactly How It Was

Over the weekend, the French Senate approved a bill paving the way forward for restoring Notre Dame cathedral, which nearly burned to the ground back in April in a construction fire. There’s one caveat, however: the cathedral must be returned to its “last known visual state.”

In other words, despite French president Emmanuel Macron’s desire to see parts of the cathedral rebuilt with an eye to more “contemporary architecture,” the French government wants to see Notre Dame returned to its former glory, according to The Local.

“French Senators have stipulated that Notre-Dame cathedral must be restored exactly how it was before the devastating fire that tore through the Paris landmark,” the Parisian news outlet reported Tuesday.

The stipulation came in the form of an addendum to a bill authorizing French authorities to begin work on Notre Dame so that the cathedral is completely rebuilt in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024 — just five years from now. The French Parliament approved the measure earlier this month but did not comment on how the cathedral should look once restoration work was finished.

The bill is controversial already: it’s written so that the French government can bypass the traditional requirements of public and legislative approval before it can shuttle money from national coffers into the project. It’s also tied to what experts consider a “rush job,” allowing only five years for a refurbishment that could — or should — take decades.

France 24 reports that several hundred historians and architects have weighed in on the bill and found it wanting.

“Surveying a medieval monument is the work of a dozen different specialists. You have to get these people together to understand what they can bring because an edifice like this one is so complex that no single person has all the expertise necessary,” one historian told France 24.

“From an archaeological point of view, one of the risks of rushing in is that you can’t guarantee the sustainability of the work,” he added. “Building a monument is something that can be done rapidly. Restoring a monument is infinitely more complex.”

Part of the problem, the historians said, was that Macron and others wanted to incorporate contemporary modifications into the cathedral restoration. Proposed ideas included a new glass spire, a glass observation roof, and even a roof addition with a public swimming pool and community garden. Integrating those ideas into a centuries-old monument could prove almost impossible.

The government, seemingly unconcerned about the historical and architectural ramifications of incorporating contemporary modifications, has already put in motion plans for an international design competition, allowing architects from all over the world to submit their ideas for “modernizing” Notre Dame.

Fortunately, the French Senate seems to have put an end to that endeavor, demanding that any restoration project that bypasses legislative and cultural affairs approval “must be faithful to the ‘last known visual state’ of the cathedral.”

Since the Senate bill and the Parliamentary bill are now different, the two legislative bodies must meet to discuss how to merge the two pieces of legislation. France’s Parliament did not add the restrictions but has not signaled opposition to a project that would simply return Notre Dame to normal.

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