A fire destroyed the spire and roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday.

The French president wants to reopen the cathedral in five years. Donations are pouring in, but could the rebuilding process drag on for decades? Here’s what we know so far.

Days after a fire ripped through Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, officials are still assessing the damage to the 850-year-old structure. The stained-glass rose windows, rectangular towers, and priceless Christian relics all survived the blaze. But experts are saying it could take several decades to rebuild the other parts of the Gothic church, such as the roof, spire, and parts of stone vaulting that fell through to the main sanctuary.

Take a look at these before and after scenes from Notre-Dame.


How long will it take to rebuild Notre-Dame?

French President Emmanuel Macron says he wants Notre-Dame reopened within five years—in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics, while the rector of Notre-Dame, Bishop Patrick Chauvet, said on Wednesday that the church will be closed for at least five and up to six years. However, experts familiar with medieval restoration work told NBC that this kind of timeline is unrealistic and could take about two decades to complete.

If the rebuilding employs similar materials and techniques used when Notre-Dame was built in the 12th century, skilled artisans including quarryman, carpenters, mortar makers, and master stonecutters would need to be hired. Because those skills are so specific, new talent would need to be trained—a process that can take up to a decade, according to Jean-Claude Bellanger, the secretary-general of Les Compagnons du Devoir, a company that provides training in such trades. Bellanger estimates that at least 400 new tradesmen would need to be trained to complete the work that needs to be done.

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Previous renovations and additions to the cathedral were completed using technology of that time period. For example, the famous chimera that line the balcony connecting the two bell towers were a 19th-century addition.

“Each era copies what was done before and at the same time adds its own inventions,” Isabelle Backouche, a historian specializing in urban history at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris, told the New York Times. Considering that, it wouldn’t be unheard of if the damage from the fire was renovated using modern techniques—potentially speeding the rebuilding.

Construction on Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia has been ongoing for more than a century.
Either way, it’s not unusual for cathedrals of this stature to take decades, or even hundreds of years to be built. Initial construction on Notre-Dame began in 1163 and wasn’t completed until 1345. More recently, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia had its cornerstone laid in 1882 and won’t be completed until 2026, after decades of funding issues and a civil war delayed construction.

The Gothic cathedral in Cologne, Germany, has ongoing repairs for damage inflicted during World War II. Although the work on each of those buildings is yet to be completed, both are currently open to the public in their unfinished states. While it is likely that the work on Notre-Dame will continue for many years, it is possible that visitors could be allowed back in eventually, once the structure is deemed safe enough.

How much will it cost to rebuild Notre-Dame?

French authorities have yet to determine the total cost of the renovation work, but a major European insurer is comparing the project to the $8 billion worth of renovations currently being done on the British Parliament buildings in London.

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“The scaffolding costs are going to be enormous, actually securing the building is going to be enormous. The cost of renovating the [British] Parliament is a similar sort of number,” Robert Read, the head of art and private client at Lloyd’s of London insurer Hiscox, told Reuters.

If the contractor in charge of the renovations that may have started the fire at Notre-Dame is found responsible, its liability policy could help pay for rebuilding. But Read estimates that type of insurance would only cover “tens of millions of euros” and not the full cost of repairs.

So far, around $1 billion in donations has poured in from individual contributors, as well as companies like Apple and Disney. The wealthy French families behind LVMH and Kering have pledged €200 million (US$226 million) and €100 million euros (US$113 million), respectively. LVMH owns several major French fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, while Kering owns other luxury brands, such as Saint Laurent and Gucci.

Under France’s secular laws, the government owns Notre-Dame. However, the Ministry of Culture has only given 2 million (US$2.26 million) a year for repairs in the past. To contribute to the Notre-Dame fund-raising campaign, individual donations can be made to four official foundations supported by the French government via an online portal.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.

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