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Notre Dame time travel comes to London

By Julian Shea in London | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-19 02:28

A person poses during a photo preview for the forthcoming immersive exhibition 'Notre Dame de Paris, The Augmented Exhibition', inside Westminster Abbey in central London on Feb 6, 2024. The exhibition, created to reveal the story of Notre Dame de Paris from its earliest origins in the 12th century, and its illustrious 850-year history to its painstaking restoration following the devastating fire of 2019, is set to run from February 7 until June 1.[Photo/Agencies]

Virtual display brings Paris landmark across English Channel

Visitors to Westminster Abbey in London, England can enjoy a taste of two cities after a piece of Paris, France arrived there in the form of Notre Dame de Paris, The Augmented Exhibition, which runs until June 1.

The attraction, the latest stop on a tour taking the story of the Paris landmark worldwide, is being staged in the chapter house of the abbey.

Notre Dame cathedral is scheduled to reopen in December, when restoration work following a fire that engulfed the 861-year-old emblem of the French capital on April 15, 2019 is set to be completed.

The damage to such a global cultural jewel produced a huge outpouring of support, and while repairs have continued, an exhibition telling its tale has carried the heart of Paris to other cities.

"The night of the fire, we felt how the entire world was in pain with the French people, which was surprising," said Phillippe Jost, president of Rebuilding Notre Dame de Paris, the institution responsible for its conservation and restoration. "We knew the cathedral was known all over the world. We didn't imagine she was so loved."

Edouard Lussan, co-founder of Histovery, the company whose technology allows visitors to travel through the history of Notre Dame, said the visit is made possible thanks to a tablet called a histopad that works in 12 languages, including Chinese, and enables people to be transported to different points in the cathedral's life, in a 360-degree total experience.

"It's a time-travelling machine," he explained. "You scan the piece of furniture to travel back to a previous time and get a surround view of what it would have been like to stand on that spot centuries ago. It uses technology to explain complex construction techniques to a mass market, simply, for all ages.

"L'Oreal (the cosmetics company) put a lot of money into the reconstruction and wanted a way to explain what was going on, so we have taken this experience to the United States twice, Shanghai, Germany, Canada, Mexico, and we'll probably go to Beijing this year, too."

Once the cathedral reopens, the exhibit will continue to play a role – somewhere.

"We are discussing, but we are not sure where, as the cathedral will be a crowded space," he said. "If it's not in the cathedral, it will be close by. It's too early to say how, but this is part of the future."

David Hoyle, the dean of Westminster Abbey, said there was a close relationship between "two great churches in two great cities", and that he was delighted to host the exhibition.

"We've always been fascinated by one another – bits of our building look like theirs, and for years we've watched and learned from one another," he explained.

As the guardian of a historic monument, he said watching the fire had been "heartbreaking – you felt the shock and horror of the people on the streets of Paris, losing their heritage". But he said he was delighted to help keep the spirit of Notre Dame alive, and to present an extra offering to Westminster Abbey's visitors.

"We get 1.3 million people here each year, so this is a very busy place and we have a great visitor team, and this experience has the very latest technology, so it's something that we're already learning from."

The pandemic saw the abbey's visitor numbers fall from more than 1 million people per year to just 50,000, but with the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II having showcased it to a global audience of up to 4 billion people, Hoyle said he was looking forward to seeing visitors return in larger numbers, to enjoy Westminster Abbey – and Notre Dame.

"The slump in numbers was catastrophic, but slowly they are coming back," he said. "First it was locals, then from Europe and the United States, and we will happily, joyfully welcome back visitors from China."

As Notre Dame burned, nowhere was the pain felt more than in Paris, and as its reopening moves nearer, Jost said the building was now appreciated more than ever.

"We became aware of the importance of the cathedral, and when it reopens, we will look at it differently – we understand it has great value," he said. "People associate the Eiffel Tower with the look of Paris, but now we understand maybe Notre Dame is more important."


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