The reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is going fast enough to allow its reopening to visitors and faithful at the end of 2024, less than six years after a fire ravaged its roof, French officials said Monday.
The cathedral's iconic spire, which collapsed in the blaze, will gradually start reappearing above the monument this year in a powerful signal of its revival, the army general in charge of the colossal project, Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, said.
"The return of the spire in Paris’ sky will in my opinion be the symbol that we are winning the battle of Notre-Dame," he told the Associated Press.
The reconstruction itself started last year, after more than two years of work to make the monument stable and secure enough for artisans to start rebuilding it.
Authorities have made the choice to rebuild the 12th century monument, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, the way it was before. That includes recreating the 93-meter-high (315 ft) spire added in the 19th century by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
Meanwhile, an exhibition called "Notre-Dame de Paris: at the heart of the construction site" is to open to visitors on Tuesday in an underground facility in front of the cathedral. Accessible for free, it highlights ongoing operations on the site and the expertise and skills of workers. It also features some remains from the fire and works of art from the cathedral.
Gen. Georgelin said the cathedral will reopen in December 2024, in line with the goal set by President Emmanuel Macron just after the fire — yet it will be too late for the Paris Olympic Games scheduled in summer next year.
"My job is to be ready to open this cathedral in 2024. And we will do it," Gen. Georgelin said. "We are fighting every day for that and we are on a good path."
This "means that the archbishop of the capital will be in a capacity again to celebrate the Catholic liturgy in his cathedral" and the monument will also "be open for tourists to visit," he said.
Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak told the AP that this doesn’t mean all the renovation will be finished then. "There will still be some renovation work going on in 2025," she stressed.
Meanwhile, the new exhibition near the cathedral will allow visitors, including those coming for the Olympics, "to live what could be this experience of visiting Notre-Dame in a brand new way," she said. In addition to the free visit, a virtual reality show will allow paying visitors to dive into the history of the cathedral. "That will help also tourism in Paris," she added.
Everyday in the capital and across the country, about 1,000 people work to rebuild Notre-Dame, Gen. Georgelin said.
"The biggest challenge is to comply precisely every day to the planning we have done," he stressed. "We have a lot of different works to achieve: the framework, the painting, the stones, the vault, the organ, the stained glass and so on."
Philippe Jost, managing director of the government agency overseeing the reconstruction, noted that the result "will be faithful to the original architecture" both because "we are sticking to the vanished shapes of the cathedral" and because "we are also sticking to the materials and construction methods" of medieval times.
"We don’t do concrete vaults that look like stone, we do stone vaults that we rebuild as they were built in the Middle Ages," Jost said, adding that the roof framework will also be made from oak like it initially was.