notre dame cathedral
notre dame cathedral

A major fire engulfed the medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris on Monday in what many, including President Emmanuel Macron, are calling a terrible tragedy.  The building is 850 years old, and during the fire, we saw its spire and roof collapse.  The main structure itself, which includes two bell towers was saved.  As of Tuesday morning, fire fighters were still working to contain the fire, as teams try to salvage artwork that was stored inside.  Officials believe that the fire might be linked to the renovation work that is now underway.  Cracks appeared in the stone, which lead to the fear that the structure would become unstable.  That said, prosecutors are opening an inquiry into “accidental destruction by fire”. 

The fire started in the evening, and quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying the stain-glass windows and the wooden interior, before bringing down the spire.  Approximately 500 firefighters worked to prevent one of the bell towers from collapsing.  After four hours of work, fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said that the main structure had been saved and preserved from total destruction.  This can only be viewed as the silver-lining in this destruction.

Of course this is an incredible tragedy, but it’s one that has seemingly brought people together.  Thousands gathered in the streets around the cathedral, while some could be seen as weeping, others sang hymns or said prayers.  But why is everyone taking this so hard?  There is no other site in France that represents the culture, quite like the Notre-Dame.  Many would argue that the Eiffel Tower is the national symbol, but that site is little more than a century old.  Notre-Dame has been a mainstay in Paris since the 1200s.  It has also loaned its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces.  While most of us know Victor Hugo’s classic, the “Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, but it is simply known to the French as “Notre-Dame de Paris”. 

Despite recent terrorist events, tourism in the city has remained relatively consistent.  A recent study on the world’s most visited cities ranked Paris as number six on the global list, with nearly 16.9 million visitors in 2018 alone.   Which is why this fire is likely to deter visitors in the years to come. In fact, there’s a good chance that it will bring more people to Paris. I think this is definitely visible in the way that people were gathering around the cathedral as it burned.  Notre Dame attracts an estimated 13 million visitors a year.

One resident is quoted as saying the following:

“Watching Notre Dame burn was a huge shock. It had never occurred to me that this wonderful, medieval piece of my childhood — the center of Paris, the garden behind it where my grandma used to take me on my tricycle, the blossoming trees next to it, the pale golden stone, the view from the top of the tower — could one day be gone. They have been there for centuries and I thought they would always be there. It feels like a broken thread, a great collective loss.”