France’s lack of finances to preserve their monuments

Soon after the Notre Dame fire we look into France’s budget and why the tragedy was not completely unexpected.


Notre Dame which is now undergoing restorations.

Skyler DiLoreto, Staff Writer

While Notre-Dame cathedral is one of France’s most beloved, its upkeep had been neglected for years and before the tragedy of the recent fire, the cathedral had been in need of millions of dollars’ worth of repair with no way to pay for them. 86 percent of France’s cathedrals are considered to be at risk and France has many other historic monuments it must care for. Because of this, many are worried that this type of tragedy could be repeated all around the country. In fact, it has happened multiple times before, one of the most notable examples being in 1994 when the 17th-century parliament building in Brittany was engulfed by flames.

A leading art historian, Alexandre Gady, stated that “[the French are] keeping up [their] heritage in a very minimal manner” and that “there’s just not enough money.” Roughly $360 million a year is spent on historic monuments, about a tenth of the Culture Ministry budget, it was down fifteen percent between 2010 and 2018. However, in 2019 the budget is once again up. About half of this money will be given to local governments to spend on their buildings and much of the budget is split between cathedrals, giving $260,000 to $400,000 apiece. The rest of the budget is given to private hands with the state only owning about 4 percent of the buildings.

The funding situation in France has become so desperate that they have turned to numerous non-traditional methods of raising money. One example of this is President Emmanuel Macron’s launch of a scratch-and-play lottery game that raised money. Additionally, France lacks the tradition of private giving that is so common in the United States though Notre Dame’s fire may change this. Almost $1 billion has already been raised according to a charity that has been coordinating donations.

Previous to the fire the budget for Notre Dame’s restorations was considered to be far too low at $170 million and the falling gargoyles and broken balustrades of the cathedral were prioritized above a modern smoke detection system. Not nearly enough money was invested into the protection of the worksite and parliamentarian Gilles Carrrez states that “[the government] were clearly not aware enough of the reality of the danger.”

While France is extremely attached to their culture, the government has shifted their priorities. The state has to divide their budget between many buildings and under different leaders dedicate different amounts of the budget. While Charles de Gaulle dedicated about a third of the Culture ministry’s budget to historic monuments, the budget now is about a third of that. Even in the aftermath of Notre Dame’s fire, it is unknown will be able or willing to change their way of budgeting.