The reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral reaches the milestone when the molten scaffolding is cleared

The reconstruction of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris reached a turning point this week. The removal of the last parts of the scaffolding that melts into a twisted path under last year’s flames prompted French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot to declare the once troubled landmark “saved”, and crucial protection and stabilization work can now continue.

Delicate work to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral began in June to clear the 200 tons of tangled pipes that surrounded the cathedral’s spire when it collapsed as millions watched in terror on the Seine River and around the world on April 15, 2019.

The spire and other parts of the roof underwent renovation work when the fire broke out and threatened to destroy the Gothic landmark from the 13th century.

A photograph taken on November 24, 2020 in Paris shows the last remaining remains of the molten scaffolding on the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral. © Martin Bureau, AFP

But while the walls of the monument remained, the extensive heat and loss of much of the roof frame compromised their structural integrity.

The mass of molten scaffolding – about 40,000 metal pipes, caked in lead dust and debris and hung dozens of meters above the cathedral floor – also risked crashing into the ground.

Parts of a destroyed ribbed vault and the tangled scaffolding are seen during preparatory work on Notre Dame on July 17, 2019, three months after the fire. © Stéphane de Sakutin / Pool / AFP

The removal of the tangled mass was considered dangerous, with some experts fearing that it could cause more of the Gothic monument to fall down. It was also thought that the scaffolding might have melted into the cathedral in the fire and kept it in place.

Workers on a crane look at Notre-Dame Cathedral on November 24, 2020 in Paris. © Martin Bureau, AFP

Minister of Culture Bachelot was on hand on Tuesday when the last pieces were removed together with Jean-Louis Georgelin, the army general who oversaw the restoration.

“The threat that this scaffolding posed to the cathedral has been removed,” Georgelin said. “Now we can deal with the latest safeguards.”

French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot to visit Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on November 24, 2020. © Martin Bureau, AFP

“I feel a deep feeling. When you enter the martyrdom, you have tears in your eyes,” said Bachelot.

“Notre-Dame is saved, we know that from today,” the minister told the lower house’s facts committee on Tuesday night after the visit. “The fear of the solidity of the structure is definitely behind us,” Bachelot added. But, she said, “the road is still long and the phase of securing and consolidating will continue until the summer of 2021.”

Restaurant workers in Notre-Dame Cathedral on a crane examine burnt wood on November 24, 2020. © Martin Bureau, AFP

Before the damaged scaffolding pipes were removed, the workers had to enclose them in a new network of scaffolding to ensure that the movable nets of the pipe did not move. Another metal grid was then erected so that the workers could be lowered with ropes to carefully cut the pipes apart. The collapse of a single piece could have threatened the stability of the entire weakened building.

Apse in Notre-Dame Cathedral and scaffolding built to help with the restoration work after the fire in April 2019 against the Paris Monument on November 25, 2020. © Michel Euler, AP Photo

Sections were then lifted out by a crane that rose 80 meters (260 feet) above the cathedral. At the end of October, the workers were finally able to reach and stabilize a massive jet that threatened to fall into the transept.

Renovation work has been slowed down by delays due to harsh weather last winter, concerns about lead contamination from the fallout of the roof that went up in smoke and most recently the coronavirus pandemic, which caused work on the site to stop during France’s first Covid-19 lock in the spring.

Detail of pillars in the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris during the restoration work, November 24, 2020. © Martin Bureau, AFP

In July, French President Emmanuel Macron said the spire would be rebuilt to its original shape and end the hot controversy over the symbolic element of the cathedral’s restoration. Macron had originally called for a “contemporary” touch in the redevelopment.

A man jogs along the river Seine next to Notre-Dame Cathedral on November 25, 2020 in Paris. © Michel Euler, AP Photo

The president has promised to rebuild Notre-Dame in five years – in 2024, the year the city of Paris is set to host the Summer Olympics – although some architects have warned that such a massive project could take much longer.

( Jowharwith AFP and AP)