Paris -- More than a year after the fire that burned the roof of Paris's storied Notre-Dame cathedral on the night of April 15, 2019, workers have started to remove the damaged scaffolding in what's been termed an "extremely dangerous phase" of the restoration.
Commemorations planned for the one-year anniversary were cancelled as France was battling the COVID-19 pandemic along with the rest of the world. France's lockdown to combat the coronavirus had also forced a full suspension of the restorative work at Notre Dame; on April 27, workers began refitting the construction site to help shield staff from coronavirus infection.
Starting June 8, workers suspended from ropes will be lowered into the charred remains of the cathedral to remove the scaffolding, which weighs over 200 tons, piece by piece in a delicate, Mikado-like enterprise.
"As long as the scaffolding is there, there is a major risk for the building," warns Rémi Fromont, chief architect of historic monuments. "If it collapses, we will have significant losses on the cathedral." It has so far held, despite the April 15 fire and the fall of the spire's wooden structure.
"It is bent but it is still standing," says Philippe Villeneuve, the manager responsible of the restoration of Notre-Dame, stating that workers are now going to work on "an extremely dangerous phase."
Didier Cuiset, CEO of Europe Scaffolding, says its workers will face a "very big challenge" in tearing down the scaffolding and that they will "cut [the scaffolding] as they go down."
On May 31, the forecourt of Notre-Dame reopened, allowing visitors and tourists to look at the monument from a closer point. The fire released toxic lead dust, which led to an immediate closure of the site. "The clean-up operations carried out on several occasions made it possible to very significantly reduce lead concentrations" and reopen the site, said the spokesperson for the public establishment responsible for the restoration in a statement.
And just before the April 15 anniversary, Archbishop Michel Aupetit and three clergymen who joined him led a Good Friday service from the cathedral that was not open to the public but was broadcast live. A classical musician and two actors to deliver the readings were also present.
According to local daily Le Parisien, the removal of the scaffolding should take at least three months to complete. France's president, Emmanuel Macron, had set five years as the time to complete restoration of the cathedral, which many had deemed unrealistic.