Uncovering the Unexpected: The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral
Despite all the damage caused by the 2019 Notre Dame fire, the fire has provided Parisian archaeologists with a unique glimpse into the history of this historic landmark.
Parts of the famous cathedral that have been hidden for centuries are now being pieced together and brought together, opening a window into the architectural innovations that made the 32-meter (105-foot) building the tallest cathedral of its time.
And it turns out that this height is largely due to the iron running through the veins of the imposing structure.
Archaeologists have found thousands of basic mineral materials in different parts of the cathedral, some dating back to the early 1160s.
The results show that the widespread use of iron in construction is not recent, as previously suggested by experts. Medieval builders working on Notre Dame used this architectural technique long before restoration work began in the 19th century.
Archaeologists working in Paris have concluded that “Notre Dame is without a doubt the first known Gothic cathedral in which iron was widely used to bind stones as a suitable building material.”
Scholars estimate that the iron fittings found at Notre Dame were developed two decades before the construction of the cathedral at Soissons in France and four decades before the construction of Bourges. Until now, both Gothic buildings were considered the first examples of regular iron construction.
The architect who was originally responsible for building Notre Dame was ahead of the game.
It seems that he freely used iron fittings to connect the stones to each other. These hard cores are found on the floor of the cathedral’s pulpits and the curves of its many arches.
The researchers wrote: “This steel grate, which was installed early in the construction, should be interpreted as an ingenious reinforcement of the transverse ribs of the outer ambulatory top at a height of approximately 11 meters, which had to be maintained without any internal support. While other buildings used truss rods spanning wooden archways, the first master designer made a bold choice for the system, using a stronger material that could be easily concealed.”
Clever additions apparently worked, and future architects seem to have emulated them until the 13th century, when additions and improvements were made to the cathedral.
Metal detectors, for example, have uncovered hundreds of metal pins used at Notre Dame, and while they cannot be properly dated, they look different than staples found on the ground. Experts suspect that this is the work of a later architect who, according to historical documents, may have been appointed between 1170 and 1190 AD.
It is likely that this second architect adopted the basic technique from the master builder before him. And it is possible to transfer this knowledge to the next official.
A row of staples at the top of the building’s side walls date from no later than the early 13th century, indicating that the structures were erected after the building’s frame had already been laid.
Archaeologists wrote: “This succession of methods, from the bottom level of the terraces to the top of the building, probably involving at least three builders over 50 years, is striking at Notre Dame. Its main builders chose to use forms known from antiquity, such as these main materials. For example, widely used in the Colosseum in Rome, in the new application to serve innovative architecture.
In the nineteenth century, many restoration campaigns began at Notre Dame Cathedral, and these campaigns also included iron chains and connecting rods.
Traditionally, experts have assumed that iron fittings were only used during these most recent upgrades.
But Notre Dame’s latest restoration seems to have “shed new light on the beginnings of Gothic construction, leading to a better understanding of the minds of the master builders.”
Perhaps most interestingly, chemical analysis of medieval goods shows that they came from several different sources.
There was probably a thriving market for new and recycled iron in the main medieval city in the 12th century. Indeed, historical documents show that iron imports were taxed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
As renovation work continues at Notre Dame, researchers hope to learn more about these remarkable medieval builders and how they once quarried and combined their materials centuries ago.
The study is published in PLOS One.
Source: Science Alert
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