Notre Dame de Paris: 8 things to know after the terrible fire of 2019

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If you are planning to visit Paris I am sorry to tell you that it is not possible to visit the Notre Dame cathedral. Surely you too have seen the terrible images of the fire in the cathedral of Paris and, unfortunately, some years will pass before we will be able to enter again within its walls.

Is it really not possible to enter?

Unfortunately, not only you will not be able to visit the interior of Notre Dame but, at least for the next few months, it will not even be possible to get close to the outer perimeter of the church. All around there are in fact barriers, which will allow you to observe it only from a hundred meters.

I know, this disastrous fire was a blow to everyone and nothing can replace Notre Dame for both artistic and spiritual value. However, this does not mean that there are no other important and beautiful churches to visit in Paris, such as the beautiful Saint Denis or the tour of the Gothic churches of the city.

Okay, but how is the situation at Notre Dame now?

During these months, a lot of people asked me about the fire of Notre Dame de Paris. Living in the French capital it is certainly easier for me to get news about the reconstruction work and all the developments of the story.

Precisely for this reason, I decided to write this post with the most frequent questions that are asked to me, so as to make some clarity on what we know at present.

Would you like to learn more?

Below I try to answer the 8 questions people asked most often about the fire of Notre Dame de Paris, in the hope of never having to write such an article again.

Let’s go!

What to see close to Notre Dame

1 – What caused the Notre Dame fire?

The French police are still investigating to rule out the malicious act and how the Notre Dame fire started, but for the moment the most accepted theory is the accidental one. In short, it was a dramatic accident due to fatal carelessness.

The Notre-Dame de Paris fire was probably due to ongoing work in the roof area, which was being restored. The work had been underway for several months, with the aim of cleaning up the outer part of the spire which was blackened due to pollution.

It will surprise you to know that before April 15, the cathedral of Paris had never been in a fire and that no one had ever brought electricity to the roof just to avoid this danger.

The internal structure of the roof of Notre Dame in Paris is in fact so intricate that it was impossible to install modern fire protection systems. For this reason, only smoke sensors and alarms have been placed, in addition to the constant presence of some guardians.

Unfortunately it was not enough.

notre dame in fire

2 – Why didn’t the firemen turn off the fire?

While i was watching the first images of Notre Dame in the flames, the first thing I asked myself was:

“But where are the firemen?”

It seemed that the cathedral was burning and that no one had yet been commissioned to extinguish the flames, wasn’t it?

In reality, the firemen of Paris have done a really great job to prevent things from getting worse, but the size of the church is really huge compared to the water supplied by the hydrants. In addition, the stairs were not high enough to reach the top of the cathedral and the strong wind certainly did not help to have a precise water jet.

The firemen were so small compared to the images we saw on TV that they seemed not to be there even though they did everything possible to save Notre Dame from the flames.

So why they not used a an helicopter?

I am sure that a lot of people have thought of this solution, which however was not possible for two reasons:

  • Throwing cold water on hot stones would have caused serious damage to the supporting structure of Notre Dame
  • There was a danger to the thousands of people who had gathered around the church.

3 – Why was the fire at Notre-Dame in Paris so violent?

So many people have started looking for really fancy explanations due to the violence of the fire at Notre Dame, but the reality is much simpler. The roof of the church rested on huge oak trunks, around 1300. The gigantic structure was built around 1220 and supported the roof and spire, placed instead in the nineteenth century when the architect Viollet-le-Duc restored the cathedral.

Clearly, the woods were very dry.

You should consider that the construction of a cathedral was a very long job and that the wood for the construction had to be transported also from the neighboring regions. Some of those trunks could already have had many decades or even centuries at the time when they were placed on the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris.

It will seem surprising, but we are talking about 800-900-year-old wood.

Consider that, at the time of the construction of the cathedral, some trunks had even been taken from older structures and some even dated to the 9th century.

Have you ever tried to set old wood on fire? They burn very fast!

For this reason the fire of Notre-Dame de Paris has flared up so violently. If you also think that there was if was a strong windy day and the roof is covered with lead … unfortunately, the disaster was hardly avoidable.

notre dame incendio

4 – How frequent are fires in cathedrals?

Unfortunately, these types of accidents are much more frequent than you might imagine.

Only in 2018, in Italy, there ware two fires in two important churches. The first in San Michele in Piedmont and the second at the Pieve of Chiampo in the province of Vicenza. Both incidents occurred by mistake due to ongoing work on the roof.

In Nantes for the same reasons, the cathedral burned in 1972 and the list could continue.

In the past, obviously, this kind of misfortune was even more frequent. The lighting of the churches depended entirely on candles and heating from chimneys. In addition, the security systems and technologies were certainly not the ones we have available today, so even the slightest mistake was enough and we risked seeing everything burned.

For example?

To give you an example, you must know that the roof of the Cathedral of Pisa was burned in 1595 exactly in the same manner as Notre Dame. During roof maintenance work, a worker probably forgot some tools on the roof and, during the night, a fire broke out that threatened to demolish the entire structure.

5 – How was the roof of Notre Dame made?

The structure of the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris has long been studied because of its extraordinary nature. It was called “the forest” precisely because, entering inside, it seemed to walk in a dense forest.

If you like the numbers, you will be surprised to know that the roof of the cathedral was composed of 500 tons of wood and 250 tons of lead.

Wood is a precious material for the study of buildings because, thanks to the tools we have available today, a very small sample can tell us a lot about its history. We can, in fact, discover the atmospheric conditions in which the tree lived, the work tools that were used for cutting, and many other things.

But that is not all.

Thanks to a special analysis called radiometric dating, the date on which the wood was cut can be discovered with great accuracy. This analysis is also known as the “14 carbon method” and is widely used in archeology to study organic findings.

This is why we know exactly the age of the beams that were burned in the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, and who knows what other secrets they kept.

notre dame incendio

6 – What did we lose during the fire of Notre-Dame?

I do not want to feed completely sterile controversy, but those who say that we have not lost anything important during the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, are wrong.

First of all, we lost the original beams of the church, medieval timber that could still tell us a lot about construction techniques and life in Europe in those centuries. Technology is progressing and if we had not lost this piece of history, we could have perhaps discovered much more.

The damage to the structure is fortunately very limited but some engineers, including Paolo Vannucci, have launched an alarm. He said that the excessive temperature reached during the fire and the heavy jets of water used to contain it, have irreparably damaged the masonry.

In addition, the fire-damaged antique works and furnishings.

7 – Lost and saved masterpieces

It is difficult to make a precise list of the masterpieces lost during the fire of Notre Dame, but it is not true that there was nothing important or ancient inside the cathedral of Paris.

I heard phrases that really shocked me, that the church was just a mess of restoration, construction, and reconstruction.

It is true, but all the ancient churches are.

Notre-Dame de Paris was sacked during the French revolution, damaged and many masterpieces were lost. But there were still preserved objects of immense artistic and religious value.

Fortunately, many precious objects have been saved: the integrity of the cathedral treasure, including the precious relic of the crown of thorns and the splendid stained glass windows are all intact. Even the statues on the roof had been removed for restoration just a few days before the fire.

But not everything has been saved!

Unfortunately, the organ of Notre Dame, restored several times but dating back largely to the fifteenth century, has suffered serious damage. That this instrument had a very long waiting list because it was particularly appreciated for its acoustics.

As far as I have read, the statue that decorated the altar, the famous Pietà by Nicolas Coustou, should be safe. And also the beautiful sepulchral sculptures that decorated the chapels are intact. Unfortunately, nothing is yet known about the large canvases and the splendid choir with decorated barriers.

8 – What will happen now at Notre-Dame de Paris?

The days after the fire of Notre Dame, I heard that the intention was to rebuild the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris in an innovative and different way. But I currently believe that they will proceed with a reconstruction “as it was”. French President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to rebuild the cathedral in 5 years so that it will be ready for the 2024 Paris Olympics, but not everyone believes that’s possible.

Fortunately, there is positive news.

Already the day after the terrible fire of Notre-Dame de Paris, a fundraiser has started worldwide and more than a billion euros have already been collected for reconstruction. I’m very happy about that because Notre-Dame de Paris is a heritage of history and art that belongs to everyone, not only to France and Paris.

Need help?

What do you think of this terrible tragedy?

Are you planning to visit Paris and you need some other advice?

If you are looking for a hotel, want to book some activities or tickets, write to me in the comments the budget you have available and the dates you are interested in.
I will help you to find the best solutions for your needs

Andrea Grossi

Andrea Grossi

Ciao, sono Andrea, sono laureato in Ing. Informatica ma da diversi anni mi occupo di web marketing e SEO. Ho iniziato davvero a viaggiare da quando ho conosciuto Elisa nel 2010 e da allora non posso più farne a meno.

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