Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral devastated by massive fire

Authorities say the basic structure of the 12th-century cathedral, one of Europe's most visited landmarks, has been "saved and preserved." Investigators are looking into a link with renovation work being carried out.

A monstrous fire engulfed Paris' iconic Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday evening, toppling its spire and causing extensive damage to one of the world's most historic and recognized buildings.

The 12th-century Gothic cathedral was undergoing renovation work, which local media cited as one potential cause for the fire.

What we know so far:

  • The 93-meter (305-foot) spire and roof collapsed.
  • Police said there were no reported deaths, but one firefighter sustained injuries.
  • Authorities said the around 400 firefighters on the scene were able to largely extinguish the fire by early Tuesday morning.
  • Paris fire service said the cathedral's two gargoyle-studded rectangular towers have been saved.
  • Fire department authorities confirmed that the main structure has been "saved and preserved."
  • A part of the vault collapsed and only a section of the interior was destroyed.
  • Many priceless artworks and cultural relics, including the crown of thorns believed to be from Jesus Christ's crucifixion and the tunic of sainted early French king Saint Louis, were saved.
  • Investigators are treating the cause of the fire as an accident, currently ruling out arson or terrorism. 
  • Police evacuated the Ile de la Cite island in central Paris, where the church is situated.

Read more: Mass tourism sparks battle for Montmartre's soul

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Landmark throughout the ages

A photo from 1880 shows Notre Dame towering over central Paris. Until the Eiffel Tower was unveiled for the 1889 World's Fair, Notre Dame was the tallest structure in the French capital.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

From on high

Statues overlooking the cathedral's roof, which was almost entirely destroyed in the blaze.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame

Quasimodo, the fictional character and main protagonist in Victor Hugo's 1831 novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," made the world-renowned cathedral even more famous. The book was made into numerous films. Here, Quasimodo is seen ringing the church bells in the 1956 French-Italian version directed by Jean Delannoy.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Fire services rush to scene

Security forces sealed off the area around the cathedral as some 400 firefighters used powerful hoses in an effort to bring the flames under control. The cathedral was undergoing restoration works when the fire started. Investigators are treating the cause of the fire as an accident, ruling out arson or terrorism.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Spire's dramatic collapse

The fire caused the spire to come crashing down and the wooden roof support structures to go up in flames. The cathedral building had fallen into ruin after years of neglect following the French Revolution, but was saved thanks to a vast restoration campaign that began in the 19th century.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Engulfed in flames

The blaze burned for nearly eight hours before it was contained.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Second tower and belfry at risk

Firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to Notre Dame's two towers and belfry. Officials said after several hours of intense operations that the basic structure had been "saved and preserved."

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Parisians shocked

People in Paris looked on in horror, prayed and sung hymns as fire took hold of more and more of the cathedral. "Paris is disfigured, the city will never be like it was before," one man (not pictured) told French news agency AFP. "It's a tragedy," he added. "If you pray, now is the time to pray."

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Racing to save priceless art and artifacts

The responders fought to save the artwork at the back of the famous cathedral. Many priceless artworks and cultural relics were taken out before being burned. Last week, by chance, workers had removed 16 copper statues for cleaning for the first time in over a century.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Gutted interior

An aerial view shows firefighters battling the raging fire. A part of the vault collapsed and only a part of the interior was destroyed.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Altar intact

In the early morning hours, the first images of the interior emerged. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and French President Emmanuel Macron entered the building. Hidalgo said "there is no roof anymore, there's none of that left" — but that the interior was in much better condition than she and others had expected.

'Notre Dame will rise again'

French President Emmanuel Macron canceled a major speech and wrote on Twitter before arriving at the scene: "Our Lady of Paris is in flames. A whole nation is emotional. My thoughts are with all Catholics and all in France. Like all our compatriots, I'm sad this evening to see this part of us burning."

Macron spoke of the cathedral's huge cultural and historical value as he addressed reporters in front of the still-burning landmark. "Let's be proud, because we built this cathedral more than 800 years ago. We've built it and, throughout the centuries, let it grow and improved it. So I solemnly say tonight: We will rebuild it together."

He vowed to launch an international appeal for the restoration of the cathedral. 

The fire consumed a large part of Notre Dame's roof, which was covered in scaffolding as part of renovation works

Structural damage

The 12th-century building, immortalized in the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was undergoing renovation work due to "deterioration of structural elements."

In 2012, the Archbishop of Paris and the Diocese of Paris founded "The Friends of Notre Dame" to raise funds to fight the problem, with renovation and repair efforts ongoing. Michel Picaud, president of the foundation, told France 24 in 2017 that the costs were "estimated at a total of €100 million."

"There is no part of the building untouched by the irreparable loss of sculptural and decorative elements, let alone the alarming deterioration of structural elements," said the foundation.

DW will continue updating this story as it develops.

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cw,ls/kl (AFP, dpa)