Visitors to a virtual reality (VR) exhibition in Paris will be able to experience the city's Notre Dame cathedral as it appeared prior to the devastating fire in April 2019 that damaged much of its structure.
Eternal Notre Dame uses thousands of high-resolution images of the cathedral, gathered by the architects at the Diocese of Paris, to render a 3D "guided tour" of the medieval building. Equipped with a headset, viewers will be immersed in a faithful recreation of the Notre Dame that charts the site's 850-year-old history, from its construction in the Middle Ages to its reconstruction today. Organisers say 30% of ticket sales from the show will be donated to the cathedral's €1bn restoration.
The exhibition opened last week at the Espace Grande Arche in La Défense; it will move to Conciergerie museum in the Ile-de-la-Cité in the spring; later in autumn it will shift to the square outside the Notre Dame; and then it is planned to tour to Rome and New York.
The technology underpinning the exhibition has been developed by Emissive and HTC Vive, which are also behind Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass, the first VR exhibition staged at the Louvre.
The immersive show and its outreach efforts have received support from many officials leading Notre Dame's recovery, as well as high-ranking French politicians including Paris's mayor Anne Hidalgo, who says in a statement: "I am pleased that the City of Paris is sponsoring Eternelle Notre Dame, which allows Parisians, as well as visitors from all over France and the four corners of the world, to discover or rediscover, through an immersive journey, the beauty of this emblem of our common history”.
It has also been praised by the outspoken Jean-Louis Georgelin, President Emmanuel Macron's special representative leading the restoration project, who notably told its chief architect to "shut his big mouth" during a heated debate over the reconstruction of the cathedral's spire.
“This immersive experience will allow visitors to rediscover the splendour and history of this Gothic masterpiece," he says.
Georgelin is currently working to reopen Notre Dame by 2024, in time for the Paris Olympics—a feat many experts agree is unachievable.
Also included in the exhibition is a "preamble" to the VR experience which presents images and videos of the current construction site around the cathedral, as well as interviews with key figures spearheading the restoration.
Emissive/HTC are not the only developers offering immersive experiences of Notre Dame. The French video game company Ubisoft is reportedly creating a VR game in which players become members of the Parisian fire brigade fighting the 2019 fire.
• Eternal Notre Dame, Espace Grande Arche de la Défense, Paris, until 28 February