French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, after a colossal fire tore through the building, sending the spire crashing to the ground and wiping out centuries of heritage.
Macron expressed relief that “the worst had been avoided” in a blaze that had at one point threatened the entire edifice, and left France in shock over the damage to a building described as the soul of the nation.
The inferno destroyed the roof of the 850-year-old UNESCO world heritage landmark, whose spectacular Gothic spire collapsed as orange flames and clouds of grey smoke billowed into the sky.
Around 400 firefighters battled into the night to control the flames, declaring in the early hours of Tuesday that the fire was under control, around nine hours after it broke out.
Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet said “we can consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved” as well as the two towers.
‘France is Notre Dame’
“Notre-Dame survived all the wars, all the bombardments. We never thought it could burn. I feel incredibly sad and empty,” Stephane Seigneurie, a consultant who joined other shocked onlookers in a solemn rendition of “Ave Maria” as they watched the fire from a nearby bridge.
Gasps and cries of “Oh my god” erupted around an hour after the fire first broke out when the top portion of the church’s spire came crashing down.
“We have been dealt a knockout blow,” a stricken-looking Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit told reporters.
The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear, but the cathedral had been undergoing intense restoration work which the fire service said could be linked to the blaze.
French prosecutors said it was being currently being treated as accident.
Historians expressed incredulity at the collapse of a building that has been a symbol of France for almost a millennium.
“If Paris is the Eiffel Tower then France is Notre Dame. It’s the entire culture, entire history of France incarnated in this monument,” Bernard Lecomte, a writer and specialist in religious history told BFM TV.
Deputy Paris mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told the channel that workers were scrambling “to save all the artworks that can be saved.” Officials later said teams had managed to salvage an unknown quantity of the cultural treasures.
‘Emotion of a nation’
Macron cancelled a planned policy speech and headed to the scene, where he vowed the cathedral would be reborn.
“We will rebuild Notre-Dame because it is what the French expect,” he said, describing Notre Dame as “the epicentre of our life” and the cathedral of “all the French”, whether religious or not.
France’s billionaire Pinault dynasty immediately pledged 100 million euros for the effort.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Notre-Dame cathedral a “symbol of European culture” as the blaze raged.
The Vatican on Monday expressed its “incredulity” and “sadness” over the fire.
‘Water bombers not used’
One firefighter was seriously injured in the blaze, the fire brigade said.
US President Donald Trump in a tweet said it was “horrible” to watch the fire but caused controversy by offering advice on how to put it out.
“Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!” he said.
But France’s civil security service, which oversees crisis management in the country, tweeted back at Trump that the use of water-bombing aircraft was not being considered.
“If used, (this) could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral,” it said.
‘Will never be the same’
The cathedral was located at the centre of the French capital in the Middle Ages and its construction was completed in the mid-12th century after some 200 years of work.
During the French Revolution in the 18th century, the cathedral was vandalised in widespread anti-Catholic violence: its spire was dismantled, its treasures plundered and its large statues at the grand entrance doors destroyed.
It would go on to feature as a central character in a Victor Hugo novel published in 1831, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” and shortly afterwards a restoration project lasting two decades got under way, led by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
The building survived the devastation of two global conflicts in the 20th century and famously rang its bells on August 24, 1944, the day of the Liberation of Paris from German occupation at the end of the World War II.
“Paris is disfigured. The city will never be like it was before,” said Philippe, a communications worker in his mid-30s.
Jacky Lafortune, a 72-year-old artist and self-described atheist stood forlornly on the banks of the River Seine staring at the cathedral.
Comparing the mood in the French capital to the aftermath of a terror attack he said: “But this stirs much deeper emotions because Notre-Dame is linked to the very foundations of our culture.”
International sorrow as fire ravages Notre-Dame in Paris
International leaders voiced their sorrow and solidarity with the French people as fire ravaged the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday.
Here are some reactions delivered through statements and tweets.
Notre Dame “belongs to the whole of humanity. It has inspired writers, painters, philosophers and visitors who have come from all round the world.”
– EU Commission head Jean Claude Juncker
“Notre Dame of Paris is Notre-Dame of the whole of Europe. We are all with Paris today.”
– EU Council President Donald Tusk
– Vatican –
“We express our closeness with French Catholics and with the Parisian population. We pray for the firefighters and for all those who are trying their best to tackle this dramatic situation.”
– Vatican spokesman
– United Nations –
“Horrified by the pictures coming from Paris with the fire engulfing Notre-Dame Cathedral — a unique example of world heritage that has stood tall since the 14th century. My thoughts are with the people and government of France.”
– Secretary General Antonio Guterres
– Trump –
“So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”
– US President Donald Trump
– Iran –
“Saddened that Notre Dame —- that iconic monument dedicated to the worship of our one God & that brought all of us closer through Hugo’s literary masterpiece -— is partially destroyed after standing through wars & revolution for 800 yrs. Our thoughts are w/ the French & all Catholics.”
– Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
– Anglican Church –
“Tonight we pray for the firefighters tackling the tragic Notre Dame fire — and for everyone in France and beyond who watches and weeps for this beautiful, sacred place where millions have met with Jesus Christ.”
– Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
– Barack Obama –
“Notre Dame is one of the world’s great treasures, and we’re thinking of the people of France in your time of grief. It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost -– but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can.”
– US ex-president Barack Obama
– Michelle Obama –
“The majesty of Notre Dame — the history, artistry, and spirituality — took our breath away, lifting us to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be. Being here in Paris tonight, my heart aches with the people of France. Yet I know that Notre Dame will soon awe us again.”
– Former first lady Michelle Obama
– Belgium –
“Notre Dame de Paris on fire, a huge emotion, Victor Hugo, a part of the history of France, of Europe. My thoughts and support for our French friends.”
– Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel
– Britain –
“My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame Cathedral.”
– British Prime Minister Theresa May
– Egypt –
“The Arab Republic of Egypt affirms that it is following, with pain and sorrow, the Notre-Dame Cathedral catching fire, especially that this monument is of important cultural and historic significance for France and as part of the world’s heritage.”
– Germany –
“These horrible images of Notre-Dame on fire are painful. Notre-Dame is a symbol of France and of our European culture. Our thoughts are with our French friends.”
– German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert
– Greece –
“The catastrophe of Notre-Dame in Paris deeply saddens us. It is not only a national catastrophe for France but also for Europe and for world heritage. Emmanuel Macron, we are by your side.”
– Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
– Italy –
“A blow to the heart for the French and for us all Europeans.”
– Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte
– Lebanon –
“Sadness envelopes the world to see Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on fire. An indescribable catastrophe for heritage and for humanity. Lebanon is in full solidarity with its friends, the French people.”
– Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri
– Netherlands –
“Paris and France have been hit hard by a destructive fire at Notre-Dame, one of the most emblematic buildings on our continent. This devastating fire is felt throughout the whole of Europe.”
– Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
– Norway –
“Heart-breaking to see Notre-Dame in flames in my favourite city Paris. Hope as much as possible can be saved.”
– Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg
– Poland –
“In March it was Saint-Sulpice (church in Paris hit by fire), and today it is Notre-Dame. A tragedy for believers; a catastrophe for world culture and art.”
– Polish President Andrzej Duda
– Spain –
“We are following with alarm the news arriving from Paris of the fire at Notre Dame, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Sad news for our history and our universal cultural heritage.”
– Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez
– Venice opera house
“We burned twice, but twice we rose stronger from the ashes. We are with you, friends; do not be afraid.”
– Venice’s Fenice Opera House, hit by fire in 1836 and 1996
– World Jewish Congress –
“Notre Dame has for centuries stood proud and tall as an inimitable icon, a symbol of the country’s great culture and history. We pray that there are no injuries or loss of life in this tragedy, and that the destruction can be restored to allow this unparalleled structure to return to its position of symbolic majesty on the Parisian skyline.”
– WJC President Ronald S. Lauder