PARIS — The day after a preventable fire collapsed Notre Dame’s roof on April 15, Emmanuel Macron pledged to “rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully, and I want it to be finished within five years.” Four months into this deadline, the French president’s words appear naïve. It may take years to get the site ready for serious work.
Approach Notre Dame on foot from the front on a sunny August day, and the first feeling is relief: It doesn’t look that bad. Thanks to firefighters who risked their lives, the twin stone bell towers are intact, minus the spire behind them. The 28 kings of Judah still stare out placidly.
From the sides and back, though, the damage — and the early effort to halt further destruction — are clear. A tarp covers the space where the roof should be. Fabric protects windows both intact and damaged. Fresh wood shores up the famous flying buttresses.
Yet most jarring is the inactivity. At midday on a weekday, nobody is working. This isn’t a busy reconstruction site. Behind the tall metal fences that now secure the cathedral and its plaza and gardens, no one can be seen, save a lone security guard, playing on his phone.
Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images