France Focuses on Rebuilding Notre-Dame, as Donations Pour In


PARIS — Days after a destructive fire tore through the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, France started on Wednesday to focus on reconstruction, with President Emmanuel Macron having set the ambitious goal of rebuilding the Gothic landmark within five years and donations pouring in from around the world.

Édouard Philippe, the French prime minister, said after a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the five-year goal was “obviously an immense challenge,” but also “a historical responsibility.”

Individuals, companies and institutions have so far donated or pledged 845 million euros — about $950 million — to rebuild the damaged cathedral, which has stood for more than eight centuries. On Tuesday, the government set up an online portal that points to four official organizations and foundations that are collecting donations.

“Each euro that is given for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame will be used for that, and nothing else,” Mr. Philippe said.

He said that the government would organize an international architecture campaign to design a spire that could replace the 19th-century structure that collapsed in the fire on Monday and crashed through the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling. But Mr. Philippe added that it remained uncertain whether the lost spire — which was added in the 19th century — would be replaced.

Mr. Macron was scheduled to discuss reconstruction efforts later Wednesday with members of his cabinet as well as officials from City Hall, the Roman Catholic Church and French cultural agencies.

Next week, the government is to present a bill to give the donation campaign a legal framework, which will ensure security and transparency, Mr. Philippe said. The legislation will also create tax deductions for French citizens who contribute less than €1,000 to the reconstruction effort.

On Wednesday, as gray skies gave way to blue, the police were still blocking access to the cathedral and to the area around it on the Île de la Cité, one of the islands in the Seine that lie at the heart of Paris. Tourists and ordinary Parisians alike pressed against police barricades along the river, snapping pictures of the beloved symbol of the city, now roofless, and pointing to a cluster of firefighters atop one of the cathedral’s towers.

At 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, all cathedrals in France are expected to toll their bells in honor of a loss that has shocked the nation, and much of the world. Notre-Dame, one of the most recognizable structures in Paris, lost much its roof, large parts of its interior stone ceiling and some interior furnishings to the fire, and it remains unclear what damage has been done to the walls or cultural artifacts.

Mr. Macron’s plan to rebuild within five years has prompted debate about how Notre-Dame should be restored — identical to its older self, with similar materials, or in a newer fashion, with modern techniques?

Isabelle Backouche, a historian at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris who specializes in urban history, said in an interview that she would not be shocked if reconstruction were done according to “modern plans.”

“Each era copies what was done before and at the same time adds its own inventions,” she said, noting that parts of the cathedral — the world-famous chimeras, for instance — were 19th-century additions or renovations.

Investigators are continuing to question witnesses in order to determine what caused the fire, which, remarkably, caused only minor injuries to three people.

Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, said the investigation would be “long” and “complex,” but it has already become clear that little was in place to prevent the flames from coursing through the cathedral’s attic, a lattice of ancient wooden beams underneath a lead-covered roof.

Mr. Philippe said that the relics and artwork that firefighters had scrambled to save from the fire had been transferred to the Louvre museum from Paris City Hall, where emergency workers had first placed the pieces for safekeeping in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

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