This week we’re taking a closer look at the progress on the restoration of the Notre Dame cathedral.
But the big question is: When will the cathedral reopen?
Short answer: In December, 2024.
Long answer: In December 2024, but there are still plenty of fun and exciting ways to see the cathedral. This week we chatted to one of the carpenters involved in the restoration project, visited the new Virtual Reality exhibition (which is outstanding), and took a look in the crypt. And there’s even more to see than that! Let’s take a look.
The Earful Tower podcast episode
Listen below, or anywhere you get podcasts.
The virtual reality experience of Notre Dame
The Éternelle Notre-Dame is nothing short of exceptional.
The exhibit opened at the foot of the Notre Dame cathedral in January 2023. This virtual reality experience takes you on a journey through the 850 years of Notre Dame’s history. Notre Dame and its surroundings have been digitally recreated and the virtual reality visitors are able to step into the different eras of the cathedral’s vast history. Visitors are transformed into real characters in the history of Notre Dame and walk around the 500m² space, with the visit taking about 45 minutes.
The thing that is particularly exciting is that thanks to the VR, you really do feel like you are soaring up and around Notre Dame to get a better look at the building. Imagine, you are going up on the scaffolding as they are building Notre Dame in the 1100s and you see the view out over Paris in every direction. Yes, you are technically just standing still in a room, but it feels like you are rising up around the building.
10/10, highly rated by the Earful Tower.
Meeting one of Notre Dame’s carpenters
There was a lot of talk after Notre Dame’s fire as to how it should be rebuilt with many architectural firms throwing their designs into the mix. So, how are they reconstructing Notre Dame?
Short answer: As historically accurate as they can.
Long answer: After talk of different designs for the repairs, in 2019 the French National Assembly passed a law requiring that the restoration must “preserve the historic, artistic and architectural interest of the monument”. What’s more, most French people wanted Notre Dame’s roof and spire to return to their original form. The reconstruction of Notre Dame has therefore been as historically accurate as possible, with artisans working hard to combine the methods and tools of the past whilst also using some tools of today.
Here you can see some of those artisans at work during the 2023 Journée du Patrimoine.
The Earful Tower spoke to Danish carpenter Magnus Frimer-Larsen, pictured below, who featured in this week’s podcast episode. He said that “being able to work in the same ways that this cathedral was originally crafted, meaning not necessarily using the same tools, but using the mental tools – in terms of conception and tracing the joinery, the layout, finding the angles, the lengths, conceiving of the carpentry in space – that has been very special.”
He is particularly interested in “historic carpentry, part of this carpentry is medieval carpentry so it’s always very interesting to work on these projects where you get this huge insight into how people must have worked in the period and how they must have thought about their processes and how they went about building a roof structure like this.”
When we saw Magnus Frimer-Larsen he was hewing (chopping) a large log with a french axe, which was custom designed in the medieval style for this project. These steel axes, “doloires”, were remade using techniques, materials and tools of time and have been stamped with the logo of the architects in the public establishment of Notre Dame. This axe has a slight curve, which as Magnus pointed out “allows you to make a wavy pattern, which [they] found on the medieval wood. It’s one of the tools they would have used at the time.”
The crypt of Notre Dame
This week we also visited the crypt, which is another good way to get your Notre Dame fix while it’s closed.
Inside you can find remnants and vestiges of ancient Paris. It is utterly fascinating and perfect for those interested in the history of Paris. Visitors can find the remains of buildings and foundations between the Gallo-Roman era and the 18th century. It is intriguing to think of the history of these stones from 1600 years ago that are still standing. What’s more, these remains were only found during excavations in the 1960s!
There are also loads of plaques, pictures, and even caricatures featuring characters from Notre Dame’s history, including architect Violett-Le-Duc and Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo and Esmerelda.
Where to book: No need to, simply show up
Location: 7 Parvis Notre-Dame
Notre Dame on display at the Architecture museum of Paris
A quite unknown museum, which is rather impressive, is the City of Architecture and Heritage.
This museum overlooks the Eiffel Tower at Trocadéro, it exhibits monumental sculpture and architecture. The museum was established in 1879 by renowned architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the same man responsible for Notre Dame’s 19th century restoration. Naturally, it has a remarkable exhibition on Notre Dame, which focuses on providing access to an inaccessible but beloved cathedral and includes archival designs, statues, photographs and models.
The most interesting thing to spot in this exhibit are the 16 statues representing the Apostles and the Evangelists. These figures could have easily been destroyed in the fire. The statues which represented the 12 apostles and were placed at the base of the spire, which was added to the cathedral in the 19th century. Thomas the Apostle has the exact features of the man responsible for the restoration: Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. It was just a few days before the fire that the statues were luckily removed and are now on display for the public – you can even get up and personal with the architect himself!
An homage is also given to the Notre Dame’s spire, designed and built in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, and shows behind the scenes details and designs.
The official word on the re-opening of Notre Dame
According to the Paris tourism board: “the reopening of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is announced for the 8th December 2024. A Te Deum (a short religious ceremony) is planned for 15 April 2024, exactly five years after the fire.”
The redevelopment of Notre Dame’s surroundings is scheduled to open to the public in 2027. This will focus on green spaces and highlighting Notre Dame’s famous façade.
In the mean time, the north side of the cathedral has an excellent series of photographs of the interior, with information in French and English about what’s going on.
That’s it for now, if you’ve enjoyed this content, pleasure support The Earful Tower on Patreon to unlock loads of bonuses, including our extensive PDF guide to Paris.