Home of hunchback seeks funds for facelift
PARIS — Victor Hugo would be appalled to see the ravages inflicted by time, pollution and weather on his beloved Notre Dame, the soaring cathedral that adorns the heart of Paris.
The celebrated French novelist wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, published in 1831, largely to draw attention to the glories of Gothic architecture, which in his day was often neglected or disfigured by modern additions.
With its twin towers, stained-glass windows, gargoyles and flying buttresses — a colossal achievement that took more than a century to complete — the cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site that draws between 12 and 14 million visitors each year.
Though the French government currently spends 2 million euros ($2.3 million) a year for maintenance work, the conservation to-do list is growing long.
Gargoyles that have lost their heads have been fixed up with unsightly plastic tubes for water drainage. Elsewhere, an entire stone balustrade is missing, replaced by plywood; a pinnacle has crumbled and a stained-glass window’s frame is in a sorry state of repair.
Decorative details that have fallen away from flying buttresses have been set aside for safekeeping.
The central lead-clad wooden spire, which rises 93 meters above the cathedral roof and weighs 250 metric tons, is also in need of costly restoration.
The lead, meant to protect the spire from the elements, is wearing thin, noted government conservationist MarieHelene Didier.
Paris is sounding the alarm, seeking donations, notably from US patrons, to help pay for the work, pledging to match up to 4 million euros donated to a heritage fund.
Andre Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, who knows Notre Dame’s every nook and cranny, is leading the funding drive.
“It’s really urgent,” he said during a tour of the devastation caused by air pollution and acid rain.
“You realize that funds) are not enough.” (state
By his estimate, the bill could come to at least 150 million euros over 30 years.
Notre Dame won some US star power in September 2014 when pop idol Beyonce and her rapper husband Jay Z and daughter Blue Ivy, then 2, enjoyed a private tour of the monument.
Tourists from the US are particularly enthralled by Hugo’s Quasimodo and other characters in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, immortalized in myriad films, plays and musicals.
“We are not in a situation of danger, we still manage to handle the most urgent needs,” said Didier. But private donations “would allow us to speed up the work”.
While France is spreading the net wide in search of contributions, “we will still be appealing to the French,” Finot said. “They should be conscious of the incredible heritage they have.”
The roof of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, which is in need of large- scale restoration due to pollution, weather and wear and tear.