Exactly two years after an accidental fire tore through Paris’ most famous cathedral and shocked the world, French President Emmanuel Macron is today paying a visit to the building site Notre Dame has become to show that in spite of coronavirus French heritage has not been forgotten.

Flanked by ministers, architects and even the retired General Jean-Louis Georgelin, who is overseeing the restoration, Mr Macron is inspecting the progress of the ambitious works in a bid to give the virus-weary French public some hope that a completion date will one day arrive, if not in the near future.

Workers meanwhile continue in earnest to restore the one-time jewel of French Gothic architecture.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is pictured on the eve of the second anniversary of its fire. (AP/ Christophe Ena)
Notre Dame fire news paris
The cathedral was almost completely destroyed by the fire two years ago. (EPA/AAP)

Mr Macron famously said the cathedral would be completed by 2024, yet officials now openly acknowledge this completion date as unrealistic, as they cite factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic as having slowed down the pace.

The blaze also distributed vast amounts of toxic lead from the cathedral’s burned-out roof onto the site and nearby, complicating the clean-up work that came before restoration efforts could even begin.

The works that currently scar the French capital skyline – with cranes and scaffolds – could indeed take decades.

Royal family condolences Notre Dame fire
The blaze also distributed vast amounts of toxic lead from the cathedral’s burned-out roof. (AAP)

Officials said earlier this month that the burned-out monument and its esplanade could remain in construction for another “15 or 20 years”.

However, they now pledge that Notre Dame will at least be open for prayer and a “return to worship” in time for Paris’ Olympic Games in 2024.

It remains to be seen if the cathedral will be in any position to welcome the some 20 million tourists it used to receive each year before the fire.

Since 2019, religious ceremonies, including venerating the “Crown of Thorns” during Easter Mass, have been taking place at Notre Dame’s temporary liturgical base at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.

A fire partially destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral in the early evening of April 15, 2019. (AP/ Christophe Ena)

This church is but a temporary home and lacks the size or the wow-factor that drew the faithful to the 12th-century monument for nearly 900 years.

The Elysee said that Mr Macron’s “visit will be an opportunity for the Head of State to thank again all those who helped save the cathedral from the flames” and after.

That includes the carpenters, scaffolders, rope access technicians, crane operators, organ builders, master glassmakers, painting and sculpture restorers, stonemasons, archaeologists and researchers and donors who helped keep the works going despite the obvious difficulties posed by the current health crisis.

Two years is a blink of an eye in a restoration timeline.

The cathedral is, officials concede, still in the initial consolidation phase with the actual restoration phase only starting this winter, or two and a half years after the calamity.

But the overwhelming feeling for those who love the monument is of relief that the works so far have been a success.

Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit, centre, attends the Washing of the Feet ceremony for Maundy Thursday, in Notre Dame Cathedral on April 1, 2021, almost two years after a massive fire ravaged the Gothic cathedral. (AP/ Christophe Ena)

The consolidation phase costing $256 million (165 million euros) was vital as 40,000 metal tubes, from a preexisting scaffold, had to be patiently cut off the roof, that had melted there during the blaze.

The vaults inside the cathedral also had to be consolidated, with scaffolding installed to support them.

One thousand oaks were also selected and felled in some 200 French forests this spring to make the frame of the cathedral transept and spire — destined to be admired on the Paris skyline for potentially hundreds of years.

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This content first appear on 9news

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