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What Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral Means To France


Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is still standing - most of it, that is. The centuries-old monument was in flames for hours yesterday as the city of Paris and the world watched in horror. And earlier today in a show of solidarity, cathedrals throughout France rang their bells at 6:50 p.m. local time, the time the fire started.


CHANG: Notre Dame has been eroding for years, and a large-scale effort to restore it may have been the source of the devastating fire. But donations have now been pouring in from around the world to restart that process now that the restoration will be bigger and more expensive.

On the line from Paris now to talk about that effort and what the cathedral has meant to her city is French journalist Margot Haddad. Welcome.


CHANG: So tell me. As a French person, what has this cathedral meant to you personally?

HADDAD: I mean, it's clearly a symbol. I mean, every time I drive to work and I take what we say (speaking French), the Seine, you see the cathedral. It's part of the landscape. It's part of the scenography. We wouldn't imagine Paris without Notre Dame. It's just clearly impossible for us. When you think of Paris, you think of the Eiffel Tower. You think of Notre Dame. You think of la Seine. These are the main monuments of Paris.

CHANG: Yeah.

HADDAD: And it's kind of an essential part of the city.

CHANG: Have you had a chance to walk by the Notre Dame today? And what have you seen?

HADDAD: Of course. I mean, yesterday I rushed there to my job as a journalist. And the thing that striked me is how many people were there. All these people gave a bit of themselves. Whether they were foreigners or they were French people, Parisian or not Parisian, they were all there to give their prayers, to hold their hands and comfort to each other. I saw all these people applauding at the firefighters coming down right to the streets next to the cathedral after they extinguished the fire. And it was extremely moving to see that as a French person. You could still feel the emotion there.

CHANG: Right. You know, even though the cathedral has been so incredibly important to France, it was struggling to raise money for the restoration before the fire. Why do you think that was the case?

HADDAD: Well, France is not, as in the United States, a philanthropic kind of country. Big companies do not donate money that easily. It's not part of the culture. Basically, right now, the Cathedral is owned by the French government. So they could raise money but, you know, not unlimited money. So of course they need help. But what strikes us as French people as well is that in times of crisis, French people are able to gather and actually raise money.

CHANG: And now with the world's eyes on France, on the Notre Dame, what can you tell us about what it will take to restore the cathedral now after this devastating fire?

HADDAD: You know, Macron said in his speech that it will only take five years. I don't necessarily believe that. I think it will take many years. Some experts say between 10 to 20 years. There was an estimated cost of a few hundred million euros, and now we're almost to a billion. It will just take a lot of people to rebuild it. But the money is not a problem anymore.

CHANG: That's journalist Margot Haddad from Paris. Thank you very much for talking to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED today.

HADDAD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.