French President Emmanuel Macron inspected rebuilding efforts at Notre Dame cathedral on 15 April, the second anniversary of its destructive blaze, and praised workers there for their devotion to the project.
“We can see that immense work has been accomplished in two years,” said the president, who donned overalls, mask and hard hat for the visit.
He toured the nave and choir areas, went up to the roof to view the hole left by the blaze above the transept and spoke at length with skilled alpinists who work on the damaged vault while hanging by ropes from above.
Both visitors and workers spoke of the goal of reopening Notre Dame in April 2024, just before Paris holds the summer Olympics, but project chief General Jean-Louis Georgelin stressed that only means Mass can resume inside.
Other reconstruction work will continue beyond that date, he said. The tight schedule Macron initially set out has been delayed by lead decontamination work and shutdowns because of the pandemic.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who accompanied the president, stressed the city’s plans for its most visited monument, saying it would include a remodelling of the plaza before the cathedral’s western facade to better accompany the crowds that come to see it.
The remodelling would also reduce car use in the area, a crowded section of the Île de la Cité in the heart of the capital. This work outside the cathedral would begin after 2024.
Among ideas being discussed is building a dock close by for river boats on the Seine that would lead tourists through an underground entry into the cathedral.
Hidalgo told La Croix the city had already considered remodelling the plaza before the fire, and the reconstruction phase offered the opportunity to review the plan. It would probably also include turning the top floor of the underground parking lot beneath the plaza into a welcoming centre for visitors.
The traditional entry through the statue-studded western facade would remain open for worshipers and tourists, she stressed, unlike the Louvre where all visitors must enter under a glass pyramid in the museum courtyard since its renovation in the 1980s.
“I ruled that out immediately, just like I favoured rebuilding the cathedral spire just the way it was,” she said. “People need to keep their familiar bearings.”