Notre Dame has borne witness to Parisian history for more than 800 years. It’s been altered, defaced, and has weathered pollution and war—and prevailed. How it will emerge from the massive fire that toppled its iconic spire and destroyed two-thirds of its roof is not yet known.
What is clear is that it won’t be the same Notre Dame.
The devastating fire may have been triggered by restoration work. Around 11pm Paris time, Jean-Claude Gallet, chief of the city’s fire brigade, said the cathedral’s structure was still standing, and that the fire’s intensity had been reduced.
The biggest challenge now is extinguishing the fire without destroying centuries of cultural and religious heritage and an emblem of the city. Dousing the building with water from a helicopter or plane, for example, is out of the question, because it would threaten the integrity of the whole structure, according to Civil Safety officials.
The cathedral’s exterior is made of stone, but between its outer roof and its vaulted interior ceiling was a wooden structure that was eaten up by the flames. Numerous treasures were transported to safety before parts of the ceiling collapsed, but others remain under threat, including stained-glass windows dating from the 13th century. The church’s pipe organs are unlikely to survive, as are some large paintings and attached sculptures.
Parisians were grappling with the loss. “I don’t have words sufficiently strong to express the pain that I feel faced with Notre Dame in flames,” tweeted Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo.
Even as the fire was still going, French president Emmanuel Macron vowed to restore Notre Dame (link in French).
“We will call the greatest talents and we will rebuild Notre-Dame, because it’s what the French expect, because it’s what our history merits, because it’s our profound destiny,” he said.