French President Emmanuel Macron told a grieving nation that he aims to restore the Notre Dame cathedral within five years after a monstrous fire tore through the historic monument on Monday.
“We will rebuild Notre-Dame because that is what the French expect,” Macron said of the more than 850-year-old Gothic icon in his Tuesday afternoon address, adding that it will be “even more beautiful.”
“We can do this,” he vowed. Notre Dame took around 180 years to build after the original foundation was laid in 1163.
The French leader’s goal is an ambitious one considering that Paris is already busy readying itself to host the 2024 Olympics with large infrastructure projects.
The ferocious blaze claimed much of Notre Dame’s roof and collapsed its delicate spire as emergency responders fought to stamp the flames out over the course of 12 hours. For a brief time, onlookers feared the entire structure might be lost as flames spread perilously close to the structure’s iconic towers, but firefighters were able to rescue it.
Officials confirmed that the cathedral, although charred and partially flattened, appears structurally sound.
Investigators are regarding the fire as an accident, saying they haven’t found any evidence suggesting it was set intentionally. Two police officers and a firefighter were reportedly injured in the ordeal.
Parisians took to the streets to mourn Notre Dame, joining together in song and prayer, with some sharing bottles of wine.
Efforts to restore the historic monument ― a staple of medieval architecture ― seem already to be well-funded. Prominent French businesses and families, including those behind the luxury brands Louis Vuitton and Kering, have already pledged to put more than $700 million toward the cause.
Yet the cathedral had been in dire need of repair for decades before the fire. Its flying buttresses were weakening, stained glass windows oxidizing and certain stone gargoyles replaced with unsightly PVC pipe. Through an awkward arrangement, the French government technically leases the monument to the Roman Catholic Church in perpetuity, and the parties have long disagreed over which of them should be expected to shoulder the financial burden of upkeep.
Although the structure had survived the French Revolution and two World Wars, a far more mundane problem has been threatening its preservation.
“Pollution is the biggest culprit,” Philippe Villeneuve, architect-in-chief of historic monuments in France, told Time magazine in 2017. “We need to replace the ruined stones. We need to replace the joints with traditional materials. This is going to be extensive.”
Friends of Notre-Dame, a U.S.-based nonprofit established in 2016 to fund the restorations, launched a campaign in 2017 to appeal to Americans for help. At the time, the group aimed to raise 100 million euros.
A construction expert told The New York Times that the cathedral did not have an automatic sprinkler system installed on its wooden roof, where the fire appears to have started. Nor did it have fire-breaking walls in the attic that could have slowed the spread of the blaze.