Phoenix in ashes at Notre Dame

Parisian landmark has far to go, finds MICHAEL FERRANTE

It might sound odd that on a trip to Paris the first place I want to visit is one that’s been reduced to a mere shell, where some of its prized assets are missing, and is fenced off so you can’t even get in.

But I set off on foot from my hotel in Saint Germain, about half an hour away. I cross a bridge over the river Seine, and the back of the place I came to visit — Notre Dame Cathedral — is to my right less than 300m away.

But I miss it and keep walking. I know I’m close but a little disoriented.

Slightly embarrassed, I stop and ask a gentleman the way to Notre Dame. He looks like he knows his way around here. He looks up and points straight in front of us: “Just there,” he says, pointing.

That’s all he needs to say as I look and see a cordoned-off building with cranes and a web of criss-crossed scaffolding, not far away. It’s unrecognisable from a distance.

It’s a symbolic moment as I make my way in that direction, a bit rattled by the fact I hadn’t been able to find the cathedral. I’d been there many years before and I knew what to look for — but that was the point. It was no longer what it used to be, far from it.

But how did I miss it?

I approach the once majestic Gothic masterpiece dating to the 12th and 13th centuries, from the north side, away from the Seine. And there it stood — wounded, weakened, charred by fire… but defiant.

“How could the most visited monument in Paris, having withstood wars and uprisings over hundreds of years, be reduced to this?” I thought.

Small groups of people who had gathered, I’m sure, were thinking the same thing as they gazed upwards, talking among themselves about it and taking pictures.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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