French President, Emmanuel Macron has said the efforts to restore the iconic Notre-Dame cathedral which was destroyed by a fire on Monday, will begin immediately (Tuesday), making an appeal to the international community to contribute funds to the cause.
Fire gutted the cathedral which has stood in Paris for the last 850 years destroying the spire and roof both of which collapsed. The stained-glass windows and the wooden interior were equally destroyed.
The fire started at around 16:30 GMT. It was later contained but after nine hours.
Notre-Dame was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and is not just a religious structure but also symbol of the French heritage. It is as well a natural wonder for the about 13 million people who visit it every year, given its historical relevance.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The cathedral has been undergoing renovation works.
While visiting the scene on Monday night, French President, Macron said: “We’ll rebuild this cathedral all together and it’s undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we’ll have for the coming years”.
“That’s what the French expect [and] because it’s what our history deserves,” he added.
Macron said the cathedral was “for all French people”, including those who had never been there. He described it as France’s history and an “epicenter of our lives”.
“We shall be looking beyond our borders for help to restore it”.
The President gave credit to the fire fighters who were involved in the operation for their “extreme courage”.
Emergency services said that some of the valuable items including artwork and religious items were saved from the fire.
These include what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion, which were stored inside the cathedral, as well as a tunic, which King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown of thorns to Paris.
Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands was among the first individuals to pledge support towards rebuilding the cathedral. He pledged USD 113m, according to AFP news agency.
Another USD 226m was pledged by Bernard Arnault’s family and their company LVMH – a business empire which includes Louis Vuitton and Sephora – on Tuesday morning, according to Reuters news agency.
Two years ago, a spokesman for the cathedral said it was badly in need of an extensive makeover estimated to cost nearly USD 180 million. Much of the limestone exterior was eroded, with pieces dislodged by the wind, said the spokesman, André Finot.
The cathedral is covered in scaffolding while undergoing restoration work, which fire experts said can expose aging houses of worship to risky open flames or sparks from equipment.
“And now it’s gone, perhaps due to carelessness,” Bernard Fonquernie, the architect who oversaw work on the cathedral in the 1980s and 1990s said.
“Working with heat, as they did, next to so much old dry wood requires extreme care.”
The French charity Fondation du Patrimoine is launching an international appeal for funds for the cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site.