Notre-Dame de Paris: a virtual tour in the past and in the present

Three years to the day after the fire of Notre-Dame de Paris, it is still impossible to visit this jewel of our heritage. Except in virtual mode.

Technology is a brilliant tool for sublimating and bringing our heritage to life. The case of Notre-Dame de Paris is a perfect example for this. There are two very innovative ways to virtually immerse yourself in Notre-Dame de Paris, since you can no longer visit it “in real life”.

The first is this free exhibition which is held until July at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris, which uses the incredible potential of augmented reality to take us on a tour of the cathedral through history, up to the construction site after the fire. It’s almost like being there.

A teleportation in history

The visit is done with a tablet (called “histopad”) in your hands you point it in front of you on physical markers (terminals) which reproduce the structure of the cathedral and you find yourself teleported into a 360 degree historical reconstruction: the laying of the first stone, the visit of the square in the Middle Ages in 3D, the coronation of Napoleon, the procession of the holy relics by Saint Louis or even the marriage of Henri IV…

You turn on yourself, and the image will adapt, as if you were looking into the cathedral. You can zoom in on details to get information and see exactly the same scene, the same angle of the cathedral, at different times in history including the current construction site on which the focus is with the different stages of restoration . We show the work of the different trades (blacksmiths, stonemasons, carpenters, master glassmakers), in a totally immersive way.

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The story like in a video game

The exhibition was inaugurated at the World Expo in Dubai and it will travel around the world. It is another way to discover history and heritage. The same kind of device, which consists of superimposing scenes from the past, is developed by the French startup, Histovery, exists today at the castles of Chambord and Amboise or even at the Pic du Midi.

In fact, we turn the story into a kind of video game. These are mechanisms similar to those of video games (point and click type) which allow you to discover the story in a more immersive way but with a concern for historical truth since everything has been validated by a scientific council.

An immersive visit to history

We can push things even further thanks to virtual reality. A startup called Flyview has developed a completely immersive virtual tour. It takes place in a large building in the center of Paris. We invite you to put on a helmet. You are snatched from a jetpack, a fake dorsal reactor in which we will send thrust to simulate the fact that we are flying and here you are transported 360 degrees in Notre Dame, before and after the fire.

We fly over the cathedral, raise our heads and admire the height of the nave, as if we were there. We stroll in the bell tower, we admire the gargoyles, we observe the void represented by the spire of Viollet le Duc, which fell during the fire. Images filmed by a drone outside and a robot inside. It’s almost like being there.

Movies from the 1900s in 4K

If you can’t get around, there is another much more accessible tool to discover Notre Dame and many other places during the Belle Epoque, just after the invention of the first film camera, thanks to artificial intelligence. This is the brilliant work of Denis Shiryaev, a Youtuber who has recovered, transformed and sublimated the rare period films, in very low resolution and whose details – in black and white – were quite blurred, in 4K film in ultra HD. The result is impressive. We see the newly completed Eiffel Tower, the intervention of firefighters in a horse-drawn carriage or even children playing with a small boat in the Luxembourg garden, with an image quality close to that which you would have with your smartphone.

We see the detail of the faces, of the clothes. For this, he used software that runs what are called virtual neural networks: it is an artificial intelligence capable of refining the image, by “imagining” what is hidden under the fuzzy elements (” that’s a garment”, “that’s a face”) and adding elements by small touches, like a painter, to “fluidify” and improve the sharpness of the image. The result isn’t perfect, but it’s still amazing…

Anthony Morel (edited by MM)

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Notre-Dame de Paris: a virtual tour in the past and in the present

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