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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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STRIKES

Paris rail workers call two-day strike

Rail workers in the Paris region have called a two-day strike in protest over working conditions and staff shortages.

Paris rail workers call two-day strike

Workers with Paris’ national rail service, SNCF, planned to strike on Thursday and Friday in the Paris region (Île-de-France).

This is likely to cause disruption on the regional rail services – Transilien – and suburban RER lines, but will not affect city bus, Metro or tram services which are not operated by SNCF.

According to Le Parisien, the strike was called to protest staff shortages, refusal of staff leave requests, and generally over a lack of recognition for work provided.

The RER B service – which connects Paris to Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports – is expected to function normally during the strike.

RER A as well as Transilien lines K, P and R, were also expected to function normally during the two-day strike, but other services will see cancellations and disruption.

On the RER C, one in every three trains will run on Thursday, with further disruption expected on Friday. 

The RER D will not be affected on Thursday, but on Friday there will be delays and the Juvisy-Corbeil route will be closed.

Traffic on the RER E “will be very slightly disrupted between Haussman and Chelles” stations on Thursday, according to SNCF in a tweet.

The Transilien lines L, J and N will run half of their usual services (one train in two) on Thursday, with long waits to be expected during off-peak hours.

Line J was expected to return to normal on Friday, but Lines H and U will see disruption on Friday. 

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