The wood-and-lead spire on the top of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral has collapsed after a massive fire ripped through the centuries-old structure in the heart of Paris on Monday evening.
The moment the spire folded over into the building engulfed in flames amid plumes of white smoke billowing into the sky was captured in a video as onlookers gasped at the sight.
Thousands of Parisians and stunned tourists watched disbelief as the inferno raged at the cathedral, which sits on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the River Seine. The onlookers, some sang Ave Maria and others kneeled and prayed, lined bridges over the Seine and along its embankments, held at a distance by a police cordon.
WATCH| Spectators gasp as Notre Dame’s iconic spire collapses
Notre-Dame, built between 1163 and 1345, is one of the most popular tourist sites in Paris, drawing around 13 million people every year. The Unesco World Heritage Site is home to exquisite religious artefacts, paintings, sculptures and other priceless works of art. The cathedral features in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”.
The spire and the rest of the gothic edifice had been undergoing the 11-million-euro ($12.4-million) overhaul financed by the French state to repair the damage inflicted by time, pollution and the weather.
The massive fire gutted the roof of the Paris landmark and stunned France and the world as firefighters managed to save the shell of the stone structure and its two main bell towers from collapse.
Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the cathedral and engulfed the spire, which toppled, quickly followed by the entire roof.
Firefighters battled to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing as the cathedral burned into the evening and tried to rescue religious relics and priceless artwork. One firefighter was seriously injured – the only reported casualty.
“The worst has been avoided, even if the battle has not been totally won yet,” French president Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the scene shortly before midnight, as firefighters worked to further cool some of the interior structures still at risk of collapse.
Macron said France would launch a campaign to rebuild the cathedral, including through fundraising efforts and by appealing to “talents” from overseas to contribute.
“We will rebuild it together. It will undoubtedly be part of French destiny and our project for the years to come,” a visibly moved Macron said.
Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the cathedral’s main structure had now been saved from complete destruction.
A centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold and the tunic worn by Saint Louis, the 13th-century king of France, were saved, Notre-Dame’s top administrative cleric, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said. But firefighters had struggled to take down some of the large paintings in time, he said.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had launched an inquiry into the fire. Several police sources said that they were working on the assumption for now that it was accidental.
World leaders expressed shock and sent condolences. The Vatican said the fire at the “symbol of Christianity in France and in the world” had caused shock and sadness and said it was praying for the firefighters.
It is a focal point for French Roman Catholics who like Christians around the world are celebrating Holy Week, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Notre-Dame is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture. It is renowned for its rib vaulting, flying buttresses and stunning stained glass windows, as well as its many carved stone gargoyles.
Its 100-metre-long (330-foot) roof, of which a large section was consumed in the first hour of the blaze, was one of the oldest such structures in Paris, according to the cathedral’s website.
A centre of Roman Catholic faith, over the centuries Notre-Dame has also been a target of political upheaval.
It was ransacked by rioting Protestant Huguenots in the 16th century, pillaged again during the French Revolution of the 1790s and left in a state of semi-neglect. Hugo’s 1831 work led to a revived interest in the cathedral and a major – partly botched – restoration that began in 1844.
According to the cathedral’s website, the spire was built during that restoration.
(With agency inputs)
Apr 16, 2019 09:16 IST
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