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France searches for centuries-old oak trees to rebuild Notre Dame's spire

The Paris landmark's famed spire was destroyed by fire in 2019, but is expected to be restored by 2024

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France is on the hunt for 100-year-old oak trees to rebuild the famed wooden spire of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, which was destroyed by fire in 2019.

Much of the world’s attention was fixed on Paris is the spring of 2019 as a blaze ripped through the famous landmark. The fire started in the church’s attic and spread quickly throughout the roof, eventually reaching the spire, which became engulfed in flames and collapsed.

French President Emmanuel Macron initially hinted that the spire’s reconstruction could incorporate a “contemporary gesture,” but announced last summer that the spire would be rebuild exactly as it was.

Close to 1,000 oaks, each aged between 150 and 200 years, will be used to reconstruct the spire. The trees will need to be 50 to 90cm (20 to 36 inches) in diameter and between 8 and 14 metres (26 and 46 feet) tall.

Macron hopes that the spire and all additional reconstruction work will be completed by the spring of 2024, in time for the Paris Summer Olympics.

Authorities are now scouring the French countryside for oak trees and, if Macron’s deadline is to be met, the trees must be chopped down by late March before their sap rises or the wood will be too humid.

The trunks will be left to dry for up to 18 months before being cut into beams for the spire.

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“For now, we are in the phase of selecting the trees according to the frame that will be needed for the spire. We will choose trees in the forest according to their dimensions: height, diameter, quality,” François Hauet, vice-president of the Normande association of Forest Experts, told France Inter.

Philippe Gourmain, who is coordinating the search for suitable oaks as a member of the forestry professionals group France Bois Forêt, tells the Guardian: “We will be using a little of France’s history to remake this historic wooden structure.”

France’s private forest owners are lining up for the honour of donating their oak trees to the project.

“It will be a matter of pride if some of our trees are used for Notre Dame,” the owner of a 250-hectare forest told the Guardian. “It also shows how our forests are well maintained and are an asset for the country.”

Notre-Dame cathedral, summer 2015.
Notre-Dame cathedral, summer 2015. Photo by Getty Images

The deputy director of France’s National Forests Office, Dominique de Villebonne, told Le Parisien that the search for suitable oaks will lead them to trees that are “very old, including plantations ordered by former kings to build ships and ensure the grandeur of the French fleet.”

“At the same time as leaving other trees to stand for a long time, we are also planting new ones so future generations can create their own exceptional works,” she added.

Notre Dame was constructed in the 12th Century, with the spire added by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1859.

Reconstruction is expected to begin in early 2022.

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