These Notre Dame Laser Scans Could Help Restore the 856-Year-Old Cathedral to Its Glory

After Monday’s devastating Notre Dame Cathedral fire, the city of Paris now looks towards rebuilding their beloved landmark.

According to an article in The Atlantic published on Tuesday, architectural historian Andrew Tallon created painstakingly detailed laser scans of the building in 2010 — scans that could be used to help rebuild the structure.

Tallon, who died from brain cancer at the age of 49 in 2018, scanned every part of the cathedral’s structure using a scanner called the Leica ScanStation C10, according to The Atlantic. The process took five days and the scanner was set up in 50 different positions around Notre Dame.

Paul Blaer, who worked with Tallon to create the scans, spoke to The Atlantic about the aftermath of the fire.

“I saw this happening, and I had two thoughts,” Blaer told the outlet. “One thought was that I was kind of relieved that [Tallon] didn’t actually have to see this happen. But on the other hand, he knew it so well and had so much information about how it’s constructed, he would have been so helpful in terms of rebuilding it.”

It’s unclear where the disk that contains all of Tallon’s data is at this time. The Atlantic notes that, because the cathedral has stood for so long and been renovated numerous times, most drawings of the structure are incomplete and Tallon’s laser scans could be the only complete rendering of the architectural details of the cathedral.

“The laser data might be the ground truth in a way that nothing else is,” the article reads.

Notre Dame Cathedral has stood for 856 years. The Catholic church is a world-famous landmark for the French capital, second only perhaps to the Eiffel Tower, and draws about 13 million visitors per year. It has been a center of religious and cultural life there since it was completed around 1365.

The building has weathered its share of tragedies over the years. During the French Revolution, it was looted and desecrated, according to The Guardian, before Napoleon began renovations in the mid-1800s. The cathedral also survived both world wars  — including the Nazi occupation of Paris in World War II.

It has undergone even more restoration and cleaning projects over the years, including major efforts in 1963 and 1991. It was undergoing a $6.8 million restoration at the time of the fire, intended to preserve it for future generations. (Some reports from local TV station BFM-TV indicate the fire was “possibly linked” to the renovation and began in the rafters, though no workers were scheduled to be there when it broke out. An investigation is underway.)

The massive fire erupted on Monday night, destroying the roof of the 856-year-old building and causing the spire to collapse.

Pedestrians flooded the streets to watch the blaze, many in tears, one Paris resident told PEOPLE. On Monday evening, a crowd gathered to sing “Ave Maria” near the cathedral.

According to a tweet from the AFP, a Paris fire official confirmed that the main structure of the historic building has been “saved and preserved,” despite the roof being consumed by flames and collapsing earlier in the evening.

CBS News reported that a spokesperson for the Paris fire service said Tuesday morning that “the entire fire is out” and that the emergency services are now “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smoldering residues.”

“The worst has been avoided, but the battle isn’t fully won yet,” French President Emmanuel Macron told crowds in a speech given outside of the church Monday night.

He promised that the cathedral will be rebuilt. “It is with pride I tell you tonight we will rebuild this cathedral . . . we will rebuild Notre Dame because it is what the French expect of us, it is what our history deserves, it is, in the deepest sense, our destiny,” he said.

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