LONDON: It could take decades to repair the damage caused to the Notre Dame cathedral by a massive fire that destroyed the roof and spire of the famous Paris landmark, the chief architect of Cologne cathedral has warned.
His comments came as some €600 million ($680 million) was pledged by numerous French corporations and the country’s richest families to help rebuild the cathedral less than 24 hours after the blaze, according to an AFP tally of donations announced so far.
The latest major contribution came from French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family, which gave €200 million to the reconstruction effort.
Peter Fuessenich, who oversees all construction work for the Gothic cathedral in the German city, told broadcaster RTL on Tuesday that “it will certainly take years, perhaps even decades, until the last damage caused by this terrible fire will be completely repaired.”
Cologne cathedral was heavily damaged during World War II and work to repair it is still ongoing more than 70 years later.
On Tuesday, French investigators probing the devastating blaze at Notre-Dame Cathedral questioned workers who were renovating the monument, and who had been replacing its lead covering. The renovation is widely suspected to have caused the inferno after the blaze broke out in an area under scaffolding.
Investigators interviewed witnesses overnight and began speaking to the employees of five different construction companies which were working on the monument, said public prosecutor Remy Heitz.
"Nothing indicates this was a deliberate act," Heitz told reporters, adding that 50 investigators had been assigned to what he expected to be a "long and complex" case.
The architect in charge of the renovation project slated to last until 2022 said that no workers were on the site when the flames first appeared shortly before 7 pm
Fuessenich called the fire in Paris “a tragedy with a European dimension” as many churches and cathedrals across the continent were inspired by buildings in France. He said that “when the last stone was set in Notre-Dame, the first one was laid here in Cologne, and in this respect it affects us all very much.”
According to Fuessenich, the timbered roof of Cologne cathedral’s was replaced with an iron frame during the 19th century, meaning a fire there would be less devastating.
However, the architects who restored Windsor Castle after a fire devastated the oldest inhabited castle in the world shared a message with France on Tuesday: Notre-Dame Cathedral would reign magnificent again over Paris, possibly sooner than grieving Parisians expect.
“We shall see Notre-Dame magnificent again,” said Francis Maude, an architect at Donald Insall Associates which led the restoration of Windsor Castle and is now working on restoring the parliamentary Palace of Westminster in London.
“The French can be reassured that it can certainly be done,” he said. “We would be more than ready to help.”