PARIS: Paris' centuries-old Notre-Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt as it was before being engulfed in a fire last year, the public body in charge of its restoration said on Thursday (Jul 9).
The Apr 15, 2019, blaze gutted the Gothic landmark and major tourist attraction, destroying the spire and roof in a disaster that stunned the nation.
A national heritage and architectural commission approved plans to restore the cathedral to its last "complete, coherent and known" state, including the spire, the restoration body said in a statement.
President Emmanuel Macron promised after the fire to rebuild Notre-Dame within five years, and later suggested that a contemporary design could be used for the spire.
Church officials hope Notre-Dame will be open for mass by 2024, when Paris is due to host the Olympic Games.
Newly-minted Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot had earlier told French radio "there was a large consensus in public opinion and among those deciding" for the 96-metre (315-foot) spire to be rebuilt as it was.
The reconstruction process has been plagued by delays due to bad weather, concerns over lead pollution, and most recently the coronavirus pandemic.
It was only in early June that workers began the delicate task of removing tons of metal scaffolding that melted together during the fire that destroyed the monument's roof and spire.
The reconstruction proper will only start in January 2021 once a consolidation phase is over, according to the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit.
"The concern for the president was not delaying the reconstruction and making it complicated. Things had to be cleared up quickly," said the Elysee.
It said the whole process of designing a new spire - with an international competition for architects - could have caused a delay.
But with Macron not completely giving up on his idea for something contemporary, the Elysee said a modern touch could be used in the design of the surroundings of the monument.
In a new headache for the troubled reconstruction process, four Greenpeace activists climbed a crane used for work on the cathedral and unfurled a giant banner to demand the French government do more on climate change.
The move raised the ire of Bachelot, who denounced potential "harmful consequences" to the "extremely fragile" reconstruction project.
Greenpeace France head Jean-Francois Julliard insisted the activists "did not touch the cathedral" and that their protest posed "no risk".
There were sharp divisions about what to do with the spire which itself was added in the mid-1800s, replacing a medieval one that was removed in 1786.
Last November, the army general Macron put in charge of the massive reconstructive effort, Jean-Louis Georgelin, had a heated public exchange with chief architect Philippe Villeneuve.
Georgelin caused audible gasps in a meeting of the National Assembly's cultural affairs committee when he said Villeneuve should "shut his mouth".
Georgelin said last week the delicate task of removing the twisted and molten scaffolding around the cathedral should be finished by the end of September.
The wooden roof of the cathedral caught fire during restoration works, sparking a vast outpouring of emotion - and donations for its rebuilding - from around the world.
Restoring the steeple as it was had also been backed by Viollet-le-Duc's descendants and, according to opinion polls, the French public.