Notre-Dame fire: French President vows to rebuild iconic cathedral as two billionaires pledge over €300m to reconstruction effort
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Notre-Dame fire: French President vows to rebuild iconic cathedral as two billionaires pledge over €300m to reconstruction effort

FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron has promised to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris after a huge fire destroyed the historic structure's wooden roof and spire.

Macron said it was "the fate, the destiny of France, and our common project over the coming years" to ensure the iconic building's restoration as he called on "the greatest talent" from around the world to contribute to the effort.

Two French billionaires – Francois-Henri Pinault and Bernard Arnault – have already answered that call, pledging €100 million and €200 million respectively towards the reconstruction process this morning.

Mr Pinault is CEO of the Kering group – which owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion houses – and is married to Hollywood actress Salma Hayek, while Mr Arnault is CEO of LVMH, the world's largest luxury-goods company.

In a statement, Mr Pinault said his €100m contribution would be paid via his family's investment firm Artemis towards "the effort necessary to completely rebuild Notre-Dame".

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Speaking later on Tuesday morning as he announced his own €200m pledge, fellow benefactor Mr Arnault said: "The Arnault family and the LVMH group would like to show their solidarity at this time of national tragedy, and are joining up to help rebuild this extraordinary cathedral, which is a symbol of France, of its heritage and of French unity."

Main structure saved

Monday evening's inferno destroyed the wooden roof of the 850-year-old UNESCO world heritage landmark, shortly after its spectacular 19th century Gothic spire collapsed among a hellish scene of orange flames and dark smoke above the Parisian skyline.

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Fire broke out on the wooden roof of the double-sheltered cathedral at around 6.50pm and spread to the spire by 7.40pm, before it tumbled to the ground at 7.53pm prior to the collapse of the roof itself at 8.07pm. The fire was not fully extinguished until around 8.30am this morning.

More than 400 firefighters battled into the night to control the blaze, declaring in the early hours of Tuesday that the incident was under control over nine hours after it broke out.

Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet said "we can consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved" including its two famous bell towers and lower stone roof.

Mr Macron expressed his relief at the news, describing Notre-Dame as a place where French people "lived all our great moments" and "the epicentre of our lives".

Announcing a national subscription would be launched to raise money for the rebuild, he added: "I say this very solemnly to you tonight, we will rebuild Notre-Dame together.

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"This is undoubtedly part of the French destiny... it is what the French people expect and what our history deserves."

The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear, but the cathedral had been undergoing intense restoration work which the fire service said could be linked to the blaze.

French prosecutors said the inferno was being currently being treated as an accident, while one fireman is understood to have been seriously injured.

Symbol of France

Meanwhile, historians and Church officials have expressed incredulity at the collapse of a building that has been a symbol of France for almost a millennium.

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Notre-Dame's foundation stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III, and the original structure was completed in the mid-13th century.

The cathedral has long been considered a feat of western architecture as well as a major religious and cultural symbol of France with its twin bell towers, spire, flying buttresses and stained glass windows.

Located in Île de la Cité, a small island in the middle of the Seine river, Notre-Dame is one of Paris' most popular attractions – drawing an estimated 13 million visitors a year, even more than the Eiffel Tower.

Even as it fell into disrepair over the centuries, it was the site of Napoleon Bonaparte's coronation as emperor in 1804.

The central spire was built in the 19th century amid a broad restoration effort, made possible partly by success of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1831.

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Images emerging from the interior of the building in the early hours of Tuesday morning showed that more appears to have been saved than had been feared, with a surprisingly intact space beneath a seemingly structurally sound stone ceiling.

In yet more fortunate news, it has been revealed that a large number of Notre-Dame's priceless relics and artifacts – including many of its famed gargoyles – were removed from the site by construction workers in recent days.