Donors pledge 700 mn euros to rebuild Notre-Dame

Restoring the cathedral could require anywhere from 600 million to one billion euros, but some 850 million euros have been pledged, mainly from French billionaires and companies as well as the city of Paris and other authorities (AFP/File)

Pledges from French billionaires, businesses and the public sector to help rebuild Notre-Dame cathedral reached some 700 million euros (790 million dollars) on Tuesday amid an outpouring of public support for one of Europe's most iconic monuments. President Emmanuel Macron has vowed the mediaeval monument will be restored after its spire and roof collapsed Monday night in a spectacular blaze thought to be linked to extensive renovation work. French luxury group Kering, whose brands include Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, kicked off the campaign late Monday with a promise of 100 million euros ($113 million). It was followed Tuesday by a 200-million-euro pledge from Kering's rival luxury conglomerate LVMH and the family of its founder Bernard Arnault, France's richest person. The L'Oreal cosmetics group and its founding Bettencourt family offered 200 million euros, while French oil giant Total said it would contribute 100 million euros. Several other business executives and blue-chip French firms also said they would contribute, some announcing pledges of five, 10 or 20 million euros. Air France said it would offer free flights to experts brought in to help with Notre-Dame's renovation, while glass giant Saint-Gobain promised its expertise in restoring the stained-glass windows which exploded in the fire. - Oak beams offered - Support came from outside France as well, with Apple chief Tim Cook announcing the tech giant would give an unspecified amount to help restore a "precious heritage for future generations." Some gripes emerged on social media over the huge fiscal deductions companies in both France and the US would be eligible for, with commentators saying taxpayers would be footing much of the final bill. But pledges were also pouring in from anonymous donors to groups including the privately run French Heritage Foundation, which said it had secured more than 13 million euros in pledges. On a more modest scale, a fund set up on the Leetchi fundraising platform had reached nearly 29,000 euros by Tuesday afternoon. France 2 television said it will broadcast a special classical music concert Wednesday night as part of the fundraising effort. The French Council of the Muslim Faith also called on French Muslims to help save "an architectural masterpiece that is the honour of our country". Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the city would unlock 50 million euros, while the government of the greater Paris region promised 10 million. And French insurer Groupama said it would supply the estimated 1,300 huge oak beams needed to re-create the intricate roof support. The German and Italian governments have also offered to help in the reconstruction, while Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to send "the best Russian specialists with rich experience in the restoration of national heritage monuments." - Done in years? - In total, around 700 million euros has been pledged for the painstaking renovation work that is likely to take years, if not decades, though experts breathed sighs of relief that the damage was not even worse. The steeple of the Gothic edifice had been undergoing an 11-million-euro ($12.4-million) overhaul financed by the French state to repair damage inflicted by time, pollution and the weather. The cathedral has long relied on individual donations for repairs, and a few years ago created a US-registered charity enabling American voters to deduct gifts from their taxes. The New York-based French Heritage Society said it had also set up a fund for tax-deductible donations for Notre-Dame in the wake of the fire. President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that the Notre-Dame will be restored after its spire and roof collapsed in a blaze thought to be linked to extensive renovation work