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Notre-Dame fire: What is France doing to protect its other cathedrals?

Four years on from the blaze at the Paris landmark, France is investing €220 million to guard against a repeat elsewhere in the country

France is investing €220 million to avoid a repeat of the Notre-Dame fire in Paris or at other cathedrals across the country Pic: Loic Salan / Shutterstock

Saturday (April 15) marks four years since Parisians watched from the streets in horror as a fire ripped through the medieval Notre-Dame cathedral, destroying the roof and spire of one of France’s most famous landmarks.

The overriding focus since has been on the cathedral’s restoration, but, alongside this, there has been a drive to avoid a repeat of the 2019 disaster, both in the French capital and at other sites across the country. 

Here we take a look at the project to protect France’s cathedrals, as well as the latest on the restoration of Notre-Dame.

Read More: France passes Notre Dame restoration law

Cathedral security plan

France’s culture minister Rima Abdul Malak spoke about the country’s cathedral security plan on Tuesday (April 11). 

The plan, referred to during Ms Abdul Malak’s visit to Amiens cathedral, will see €220 million invested by the end of 2023 in restoring and safeguarding the 87 cathedrals that belong to the French state.

That includes the €167 million invested in the past two years, with €25 million of which went towards improving security.  

In 2023, an additional €52 million will be earmarked for cathedrals (excluding Notre-Dame) with €12 million for fire protection and €40 million for restoration works.

The culture ministry said the funds will be invested in thermal cameras, following a trial in Notre-Dame in Paris and Saint-Pierre de Beauvais (Oise department, Hauts-de-France region).

The money will also go towards setting up increased security while the improvement works are being carried out.

In addition, it will fund the removal of electrics not needed for the running or conservation of the cathedral and which pose extra security risks.

In terms of improvements, works have begun at cathedrals in Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme department, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region), Beauvais, Orléans (Loiret department, Centre-Val de Loire region), Rodez (Aveyron, Occitania region), Puy-en-Velay (Haute-Loire department, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region) and Dijon (Côte-d'Or department, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region). 

Read More: Ken Follett visits Brittany cathedral he is helping to restore

‘More done in three years than in 30!’

Ms Abdul Malak told La Croix newspaper on Sunday that before 2019, “it seems mad, but only human safety was considered if fires broke out [at cathedrals]. Cultural heritage was not. So we can really talk about a revolution in [our] approach”. “More has been in three years than in the previous 30!” she added.

In 2019, just 13 cathedrals had evacuation plans for cultural property in the event of a fire. Now, 66 cathedrals have them in place and more are under consideration.

But, added Ms Abdul Malak, in terms of evacuation plans, “a particular effort” was required at cathedrals in Bayonne (Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, Nouvelle-Aquitaine region), Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine department, Brittany region) and Aire-sur-l'Adour (Landes department, Nouvelle-Aquitaine region).

When will Notre-Dame cathedral reopen?

Meanwhile, in Paris, reconstruction work is moving fast enough on Notre-Dame for the army general in charge, Jean-Louis Georgelin, to say it will open to visitors once more in 2024, although not in time for the Olympic Games, as initially promised by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Paris’ tourism website says the cathedral will reopen on December 8, 2024, with a Te Deum service planned for April 15, 2024, exactly five years since the fire.

In the meantime, the archaeological crypt is open to visitors, as is an exhibition, “Notre-Dame de Paris: at the heart of the construction site”, which highlights the ongoing works and features remains from the fire and works of art from the cathedral.

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