With 50,000 Visitors a Day, Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral is Crumbling

Does anyone have $114 million for repairs?

At over 850 years old, the Notre Dame Cathedral sees about 12 million tourists per year and is notably one of France’s most visited sites. Dating back to the medieval era, this celebrated monument stands over 200 feet tall, leaving tourists in awe of the French history and beauty it represents. But according to a new report from TIME, the wear and tear from having over 50,000 visitors per day has caused the historic cathedral to begin crumbling—and there’s not enough money to cover the cost of repairs.

In addition to enduring centuries of Parisian weather, decades of fumes from gridlock on the nearby streets have only added to the damage. "Pollution is the biggest culprit," Philippe Villeneuve, architect in chief of historic monuments in France, told TIME. "We need to replace the ruined stones. We need to replace the joints with traditional materials. This is going to be extensive."

Not only will it be extensive, but also it will be incredibly expensive, and it’s not entirely clear who is going to be handling the costs of such a huge project. According to France’s strict secular laws, the government owns the cathedral. The Catholic archdiocese of Paris, however, is permitted to use it permanently for free.

While the priests have pointed out for years that the government should cover the costs of any repairs, the archdiocese is technically responsible for Notre Dame’s upkeep under the terms of the government’s agreement. The Ministry of Culture provides Notre Dame with about €2 million ($2.28 million) per year, specifically for the purpose of assisting with repairs. The priests say that this money only covers basic repairs, and more is needed to address the cathedral’s desperate need for maintenance.

After initial construction began in 1163, the building took more than a century to complete and has been vandalized many times. Notre Dame was in a state of neglect when Victor Hugo published his classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, in which the author described the cathedral as having "mutilations, amputations, dislocations of the joints." The popularity of the book spurred repairs to the monument in 1844, which involved low-quality stone and cement, as France couldn’t produce the large quantities of high-grade material required to properly complete the job at the time.


Nearly 200 years later, chunks of limestone continue to fall from the upper parts of the cathedral and entire sections of wall are missing. Even the cathedral’s famous gargoyles have suffered, their faces worn after centuries of wear and tear.

The archdiocese has ultimately accepted that the government will not pay to fully restore the cathedral. In response, they have launched Friends of Notre Dame in hopes of raising €100 million ($114 million) over the next five to 10 years to cover repairs. The French are hesitant to give money to the church, though, because of strict secularism in the French law, making such goals seem unrealistic.

The organization, which has since been granted tax-free status by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, will make one more push to raise the money by holding a five-city American road show in the spring of 2018. While serious time and effort are being put into the preservation of the historic cathedral, Notre Dame cannot last forever without this renovation.

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Chanel Vargas
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