Uncertainty over time needed to rebuild Notre-Dame
Parisians and people around the world watched in horror on April 15 evening as a huge fire ripped through the 850-year-old gothic cathedral, causing its spire and part of the vaulted roof to collapse and triggering a scramble to save its precious relics and artworks.
The 12th-century cathedral is home to incalculable works of art and is one of the world's most famous tourist attractions, immortalized by Victor Hugo's 1831 novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
Declaring that the "worst has been avoided," President Emmanuel Macron immediately vowed; "We will rebuild Notre-Dame together."
But asked how long the restoration could take, Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg cathedral, which recently underwent a three-year facelift, said: "I'd say decades."
"The damage will be significant. But we are lucky in France to still have a network of excellent heritage restoration companies, whether small-time artisans or bigger groups," he told AFP.
Fischer said the ability to rebuild the colossal cathedral in a manner that respects its original form and character would depend on the plans, diagrams and other materials available to the architects.
They would need "a maximum of historical data or more recent data gathered with modern technology such as 3D scans" of the kind used in the restoration of the Strasbourg cathedral, he said.
Stephane Bern, a TV presenter famous for his programs on mediaeval France who was recently appointed the government's representative on heritage, estimated the rebuilding would take "10 to 20 years minimum."
Noting the restoration of Reims cathedral which was bombarded by German forces during World War I took decades, Bern, 55, told French radio: "It will be rebuilt for future generations."
But Jack Lang, who served as a hugely prominent culture minister under the presidency of Francois Mitterrand, called for a much quicker turnaround.
Pointing to the renovations in Strasbourg, he said: "We have to do the same thing here, not in 10-15 years but three years."
As pledges of donations flooded in from around the world, the city of Paris and private individuals, Italy, Russia and Germany offered to send expert help.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia offered to send "the best Russian specialists with rich experience in the restoration of national heritage monuments" while Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini promised "all the help we can give."
In a sign of the scale of the challenge, France's top producer of oak said it was worried about the stock of oak available to rebuild the gutted wooden interior of the nave's roof.
Sylvain Charlois of the Charlois group estimated that 1,300 oak trees had been used in the construction of the roof.
"To constitute a big enough stock of oak logs of that quality will take several years," said Charlois, who has pledged to donate wood.
Donors pledge nearly 500 million euros
Billionaires and local governments pledged nearly 500 million euros on April 16 to help restore Notre-Dame cathedral, with foundations and crowd-sourcing sites also launching fund-raising drives.
French luxury group Kering, whose brands include Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, kicked off the campaign with a promise of 100 million euros.
That was followed by a 200-million-euro pledge from its crosstown rival LVMH and the family of its founder Bernard Arnault. The chief executive of French oil giant Total said the firm would contribute 100 million euros.
Pledges were also pouring in from anonymous donors to groups including the privately run French Heritage Foundation, which said it had already secured pledges totaling 1.6 million euros.
Specialized craftsmen and rare materials are also expected to be needed to restore the monument.
Artworks to be transferred to Louvre Museum
The artworks evacuated from Notre-Dame Cathedral during the blaze will be transferred to the Louvre Museum, the French Culture Minister Franck Riester told reporters.
Staff from the fire department, the culture ministry and the city townhall rushed to the Cathedral when the fire started to protect the main artworks that were inside, the minister had said earlier.
The artworks, which include relics such as the Christ's crown of thorns and French king Saint-Louis's 13th century tunic, were first moved to the city town hall and will now be transferred to the nearby Louvre Museum, the minister said.