Paris fire exposes hidden iron holding up Notre-Dame

The fire that engulfed Notre-Dame four years ago has revealed a long-hidden secret about the Paris landmark: it was the first Gothic cathedral in which iron staples were used extensively throughout construction.

Paris fire exposes hidden iron holding up Notre-Dame
A crane in front of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, as reconstruction work takes place since the blaze of April 15, 2019. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

It took near destruction and a massive restoration project which is still in progress for a team of archaeologists to discover the iron reinforcements.

The construction of the famous cathedral in the heart of the French capital began in 1160 and was not completed until almost a century later.

It was the tallest building of its time, with vaults reaching up to 32 metres, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday.

Maxime L’Heritier, an archaeologist at University Paris 8 and the study’s lead author, told AFP that some elements of the building’s construction remained unknown, even after all these centuries.

It was not clear how the builders “dared — and succeeded — in putting up such thin walls to such a height,” he said.

Lacking much documentation from more than 900 years ago, “only the monument can speak” about its construction, he added.

The blaze on April 15, 2019, exposed  iron staples used to hold the cathedral’s stone blocks together.

Some appeared in the frame of the building, others fell smouldering to the ground in the heat of the blaze.

READ MORE: Paris’ Notre-Dame ‘will reopen by end of 2024’

‘Much more dynamic ‘

The cathedral could be riddled with more than a thousand iron staples, the study said.

There are staples of varying sizes, ranging from 25 to 50 centimetres long, some weighing up to a few kilos.

They were found in many different parts of the cathedral, including in the walls of the nave, the choir tribunes and in parts of the cornice.

“This is the first truly massive use of iron in a Gothic cathedral, in very specific places,” L’Heritier said.

Iron staples have been used in construction since Antiquity, including in Rome’s Colosseum and Greek temples.

But in those cases they were simply used to keep large stone blocks secure on the lower floors.

Notre-Dame has a “much more dynamic conception of architecture,” L’Heritier said.From the very beginning, the builders used the iron staples to make the cathedral’s stands in the early 1160s. Their successors continued their innovative use on the upper parts of the walls over the next 50 to 60 years.

Iron would go on to be used in this way in numerous cathedrals across France.

More than 200 scientists are working on restoring Notre-Dame, whose iconic spire is expected to back in place by the end of this  year.

The reconstruction project is on track to be completed by the end of next year, France’s culture ministry told AFP last month.

This means the tourist landmark, which previously saw 12 million annual visitors, will not be open when Paris hosts the Olympic Games in July and August 2024.

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Paris votes on pay-by-weight car parking charges

Paris is considering following Lyon’s lead by introducing a sliding scale of parking fees based on a vehicle’s weight - meaning that parking for SUVs would become more expensive than for smaller cars.

Paris votes on pay-by-weight car parking charges

The city council this week adopted a proposal to examine the possibility for the “progressive pricing of parking according to the duration, the motorisation, the size and the weight of the cars.”

The south-eastern city of Lyon adopted a similar weight-related parking fees policy in May, which is set to come into force in January 2024.

The voted text in Paris undertakes to “put in place on January 1st, 2024, a progressive pricing of parking according to duration, motorisation, size and weight of the cars”.

The capital’s parking fees plan is, at this stage, non-binding and – unlike the fully adopted scheme in Lyon – does not yet include any additional details, including possible pricing levels.

The adopted proposals, however, do contain a recommendation for a “solidarity tariff for families on the lowest incomes as well as for large families”. 

Environmentalists on the council welcomed the move, pointing to the increasing size of vehicles – between 1960 and 2017, the weight of vehicles increased by 62 percent, councillor Frédéric Badina Serpette said, branding the issue ‘auto-obesity’.

Larger vehicles, including SUVs, use more fuel and emit more fine particles, while a study by insurer Axa found that large 4x4s are involved in 25 percent more accidents than any other type of vehicle.

Another study reports that pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed in a collision with an SUV compared to a sedan.

In Lyon, the council has decided that, from next year, residential rates will range from €15 to €45 per month, based on the weight of their vehicle as opposed to the current €20 per month flat-fee for an on-street parking permit.

Under pending rules in the south-eastern city, owners of an internal combustion car that weighs less than one tonne, or an electric car weighing less than 2.2 tonnes, will pay €15; for an internal combustion car weighing more than 1.725 tonnes, a plug-in hybrid weighing more than 1.9 tonnes or an electric car weighing more than 2.2 tonnes the price will be €45. 

For vehicles in the middle range for weight, the monthly price for permits will be €30.