Notre-dame de paris

Podcast recap: “Resurrecting Notre-Dame de Paris” from “Overheard at National Geographic”

Heard at National GeographicThe ninth season of began on January 18 with an episode that dives behind the scenes of the coverage of the February 2022 magazine publish, “Resurrect Notre-Dame de Paris.” Co-host Amy Briggs interviews photographer Tomas van Houtryve about the paperwork involved in entering the cathedral as it undergoes major renovations. What follows is a recap of this gripping episode.


Tragedy on April 15, 2019, when the historic icon of Paris, Notre-Dame, caught fire. As a team of professionals work tirelessly to restore the cathedral to its former glory, new stories from the cathedral’s eight centuries of history are uncovered. When construction began in 1163, Paris was small by today’s standards, but one of the largest cities in Europe. Construction will take almost 200 years to complete and it was the tallest structure in Paris until the Eiffel Tower was added to the skyline in 1889. Since 1769, Notre-Dame de Paris has been known as the zero point, not just the heart of the city but the heart of France, with road signs all over the country advising citizens of the distance from the cathedral. That’s why the fire shocked the nation beyond the damage done to one of the world’s greatest monuments.

The monument became world famous after the publication of Victor Hugo The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831 (adapted in Disney animated film in 1996), which made the cathedral a must-see and attracted so many tourists that it triggered a 20-year restoration in 1844, led by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Around this time, a new spire was added along with many features that make the cathedral iconic. This arrow is part of what was destroyed in the fire. Two-thirds of the wooden roof burned in the fire.

Covering the restoration project for National Geographic, photographer Tomas van Houtryve, a Belgian-American who lives in Paris. Accessing the historic cathedral while it was under construction was the second most difficult task he had to accomplish since becoming a professional photographer, the first being entering Pyongyang, North Korea. He had to take safety training in lead poisoning and safety harnesses, but Tomas was already an experienced climber, having grown up near Yosemite National Park where he spent his teenage years climbing. This experience helped him bond with the rope access technicians working on the restoration, giving him access to local culture in addition to the cathedral. One of them, Kévin Dessons, is briefly interviewed in the episode and confesses to having never visited Notre-Dame before.

Tomas van Houtryve recounts his first entry into Notre Dame once cleared for the mission, gazing at the hole in the ceiling where the spire had burned. Climbing the many spiral staircases in front of the Galerie de Chimères with many of the cathedral’s iconic gargoyles, he was struck by the magnificent views of Paris at sunrise in front of him, with the destruction of Notre-Dame behind him. Today, the cathedral is full of scaffolding as work progresses, uncovering artifacts from the original craftsmen who built it.

Treated with the same care as an archaeological dig, no one is allowed to remove an object from Notre-Dame without recording its details. Tomas learned that in the Middle Ages stone carvers signed the back of the stones they finished in order to keep track of the amount owed to them. These signatures have been invisible for centuries and researchers are now able to better understand the number of workers needed to build the cathedral and match the work of these craftsmen with other structures in France and beyond. some corresponding to Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Tomas’ artistic vision for his mission led to a mix of old image capture techniques and cutting-edge technology. Celebrating the beginnings of photography, he used a 19th century wet plate camera to capture new images of one of the most photographed structures in the world. It made him reflect on the time that after his passing, people in the future will look at these images the same way he sees some of the first photos ever taken of the landmark. He was also allowed to use a drone to capture video inside and outside the cathedral, capturing perspectives never seen before.

You can see Tomas van Houtryve’s stunning photos of the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris on the cover and featured article in the February 2022 issue of National geographic magazine. Extensive digital content for subscribers includes video capture by its drones. Disney+ subscribers can also enjoy the National Geographic documentary Notre Dame: Race Against Hell from 2019, which covered the fire and the race to put it out and save the monument. The cathedral has been an important part of French history and will continue to be the heart of the country thanks to tireless efforts to restore it.

Click here to listen Heard at National Geographic or enjoy this episode on YouTube.