Rebuilding History

September 20, 2019
On July 5, the sun shines through the damaged roof of Notre-Dame, in Paris, France.
PATRICK ZACHMANN—MAGNUM PHOTOS FOR TIME

April 15, 2019, began like any other day in Paris, France. But everything changed when a fire broke out at Notre-Dame cathedral. Onlookers gasped as a piece of the country’s history went up in flames.

Maddie Shenkan, 15, lived right near the cathedral at the time. Smoke from the fire crept into her family’s home. She began seeing news articles and tweets online about the disaster. “It was so surreal,” Maddie told TIME for Kids. “Already, the whole world was watching.”

SHOCKING SIGHT People in Paris, France, gather together to view the April 15 fire at Notre-Dame cathedral.

NICOLAS LIPONNE—NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

What History Deserves

Notre-Dame is an iconic Roman Catholic church. It stands on an island in the Seine River. Construction began about 850 years ago and took nearly 200 years. Today, Notre-Dame is one of the world’s finest examples of Gothic architecture. It’s known for its towering arches, pointed spires, and spooky gargoyles.

WORK IN PROGRESS Two workers hang off the side of Notre-Dame on July 2.

PATRICK ZACHMANN—MAGNUM PHOTOS FOR TIME

To the people of France, Notre-Dame is much more than a place of worship. It is a symbol of the country. “It is our history,” said French president Emmanuel Macron on the night of the fire. “We will rebuild Notre-Dame,” he pledged, “because that is what our history deserves.”

Macron called for Notre-Dame to be rebuilt by 2024. He wanted it to look more modern. But many wanted Notre-Dame to look exactly as it had before the fire. The French Senate agreed. On May 27, it voted to restore Notre-Dame to its “last known visual state” before the fire.

RUBBLE TROUBLE Protective nets are hung below Notre-Dame’s ceiling to catch falling debris in the aftermath of the April 15 fire. Before reconstruction can begin, the remaining rubble must be removed.

PATRICK ZACHMANN—MAGNUM PHOTOS FOR TIME

A New Chapter

The restoration is just beginning. Already, there have been setbacks. Summer heat caused the ceiling to become too dry, and stones fell. Also, the blaze released toxic lead into the air. This delayed cleanup. Lead poisoning is still a concern.

SKY HIGH A worker scales an open part of the roof, where the blaze at Notre-Dame began. Some sections of the cathedral have since been exposed to rainfall and high temperatures.

PATRICK ZACHMANN—MAGNUM PHOTOS FOR TIME

Experts are worried about Notre-Dame’s fragile framework, too. “The structure has been weakened by the fire,” says Michel Picaud. He is head of the charity Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris. “We have to secure the building before we can rebuild,” he says. This means cleaning, protecting, and repairing what has been damaged.

The actual rebuilding will likely not begin until spring 2020. Workers from around the globe will come together to make it happen. Limestone will need to be carved. It will be used to rebuild Notre-Dame’s walls. Thousands of oak trees will be harvested. They will be used to reconstruct the roof.

SAFEKEEPING A wooden frame protects a 14th-century statue in a side chapel of Notre-Dame on June 25. After the fire, the statue was moved out of the central part of the building for safekeeping.

PATRICK ZACHMANN—MAGNUM PHOTOS FOR TIME

This isn’t the first time Notre-Dame has needed major repair. It has survived other fires. It was also damaged during the French Revolution. Over the centuries, it has evolved and been reshaped.

Hundreds of years from now, people will look back at the 2019 Notre-Dame fire. What will they think? “I would like people to remember,” says Picaud, “that Notre-Dame de Paris began a new chapter in its story.”

The Damage Done

LON TWEETEN FOR TIME

Five hundred firefighters put out the blaze at Notre-Dame. It took them about nine hours. By then, the cathedral’s 300-foot spire had collapsed. Nearly two-thirds of the roof was destroyed. But firefighters managed to save many important artifacts. One is a crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus. Notre-Dame’s stained-glass windows and pipe organ also survived.

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