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Paris Pledges €80 Million to Fix Historic Buildings, but Much More Is Needed

The Saint-Louis en l’île church in Paris, one of the buildings that will be restored under mayor Hidalgo's plan. (photo by David McSpadden/Flickr)
The Saint-Louis en l’île church in Paris, one of the buildings that will be restored under mayor Hidalgo’s plan. (photo by David McSpadden/Flickr)

The city of Paris will spend €80 million (~$85.9 million) over the next five years fixing up and restoring the 96 historic buildings it is responsible for maintaining. The initiative, announced by Paris’s mayor Anne Hidalgo at an April 10 press conference, makes good on a promise she made during her campaign last year. The sum may sound enormous, but it’s tiny compared to the €500 million (~$537 million) that some say is needed to do the job right.

The €80 million, plus another €11 million (~$11.8 million) from the state, constitute “an investment far smaller than what is needed,” Maxime Cumunel, of the group Observers of the Religious Patrimony (ORP), told Le Monde. “At Saint-Augustin alone, there’s €50 million of work to be done.” In the leadup to the 2014 municipal elections, ORP called on candidates to reverse the recent trend of neglect, pointing out that even though the city’s budget had gone up 59% in the previous decade, its spending on the religious buildings it owns had dropped by 27%. Meanwhile the chief architect of France’s historic monuments, Étienne Poncelet, estimates that the sum needed is “€15 million to €20 million per building to get them back in shape.”

Some of the best-known buildings included in mayor Hidalgo's plan. (screenshot by the author via paris.fr)
Some of the best-known buildings included in mayor Hidalgo’s plan (screenshot by the author via paris.fr)

The buildings, under the city’s jurisdiction since the passage of the federal law of 1905 separating church and state, include 85 catholic chapels, churches, and minor basilicas, nine protestant temples, and two synagogues. The oldest date from the 12th century. Collectively they house 40,000 artworks and inventoried pieces of historic furniture, as well as 130 organs. The most famous is the Sacré Coeur basilica, which had 10.5 million visitors in 2013 (9.33 million people visited the Louvre that year), and four of the buildings are among the 20 most visited sites and monuments in all of France.

In spite of the buildings’ popularity with tourists, the city has let many of them fall into disrepair. Scaffolding around clock towers, netting hung to catch falling stones, and tarps stretched over leaky roofs have become permanent parts of many of their exteriors. Just last month, the fire department performed an emergency stabilizing intervention on the metal cross atop the bell tower of Saint-Louis en l’Île after a small chunk of it came crashing down.

Still, the mayor’s office hopes that the €91 million already pledged to the cause will be supplemented through private donations and crowdfunding campaigns. “Participatory funding mechanisms have a place in the plan,” the municipal government’s announcement explains, “simultaneously boosting the city’s ability to intervene, and mobilizing Parisians around a patrimony it values dearly.” Last year the city used crowdfunding to help finance the restoration of the Eugène Delacroix murals in the church of Saint-Sulpice.

Eugène Delacroix, "Saint Michael defeats the Devil" (ca. 1854–61), a painting on the ceiling of the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. (via Wikimedia Commons)
Eugène Delacroix, “Saint Michael defeats the Devil” (ca. 1854–61), a painting on the ceiling of the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris (via Wikimedia Commons)
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