Notre Dame's restoration will involve hundreds of complex decisions – each one hotly contested

Martyn Evans index

Rescuing a palimpsest is never straightforward, says Martyn Evans. But it will be fascinating

Putting aside for one minute an automatic gut-wrenching response to the horrible pictures of Notre Dame on fire, what is left is a very interesting dilemma. What to do now? The French government has responded quickly, buoyed by huge offers of cash from France’s Glamour Billionaires.

Macron has promised a five-year restoration deadline and a competition has already been launched to find an architect to design a replacement for the spire that fell as the fire was live-streamed around the world. But replace it with what? A replica? Or something new.

If you didn’t know the history of the cathedral’s construction in detail, you would have thought from the live news coverage that a 12th-century treasure was being destroyed before your eyes. But, as with most buildings of this age, it’s not quite as simple as that. The original 12th-century building had become pretty much a ruin by the 1850s and an extensive restoration was undertaken by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc including the addition of the spire. This is not to suggest that the cathedral today is in any way inauthentic, more that it is a product of many additions and layers over centuries by architects and craftspeople who would have had great respect for the original designers and builders.

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