French President Emmanuel Macron (C) is accompanied by Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo (3L), French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (L) French Culture Minister Franck Riester (2L) and Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit as he speaks at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019, after a fire engulfed the building. A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said.Images posted on social media showed flames and huge clouds of smoke billowing above the roof of the gothic cathedral, the most visited historic monument in Europe.
AFP/Philippe Wojazer, Pool
Macron vows to rebuild Notre-Dame after devastating fire
Clare Byrne, Joseph Schmid, Stuart Williams (Agence France-Presse) - April 16, 2019 - 10:05am

PARIS, France — 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."

NOTRE DAME DE PARIS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 21, 2019 - 3:23pm

Follow updates on the Notre Dame Cathedral fire here.

April 21, 2019 - 3:23pm

The popularity of French President Emmanuel Macron remains stuck at under 30 percent as he battles a series of political troubles, with no major change reported after the Notre-Dame fire, a poll said Sunday.

According to the Ifop poll for the Journal du Dimanche just 29 percent of people polled said they are satisfied with the job Macron is doing, with 69 percent dissatisfied.

This April reading was unchanged from the last poll in March, the newspaper said.

The poll, carried out up until April 20, was published at the end of a dramatic week for Macron which saw him address the nation over the damage to the Notre-Dame cathedral in Monday's devastating fire. -- Agence France-Presse

April 19, 2019 - 10:00am

French President Emmanuel Macron hails as "exemplary" hundreds of firefighters who saved Notre-Dame in the devastating blaze, as efforts intensified to shore up the still fragile cathedral.

Some 600 firefighters worked throughout the night Monday to put out the fire at the Paris landmark and prevent an even worse disaster, in a blaze that felled the spire and destroyed two-thirds of its roof. — AFP

April 18, 2019 - 3:43pm

Catholic worshippers feeling orphaned by the fire that ravaged part of Notre-Dame will be welcomed in an "ephemeral cathedral" of wood in front of the Paris monument until it reopens, Notre-Dame's chief priest says Thursday.

Speaking to France's CNews television channel Monsignor Patrick Chauvet says: "We mustn't say 'the cathedral is closed for five years and that's it'.

To give the faithful somewhere to congregate next to Notre-Dame, he suggests: "Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on the esplanade (in front of Notre-Dame)?"

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had backed the idea and agreed to give over part of the esplanade to the church for a wooden structure, he says.

Chauvet says the wooden "cathedral" would host priests who could address some of the millions of tourists who throng the original 850-year-old Gothic cathedral each year. -- Agence France-Presse

April 18, 2019 - 11:42am

Fraudsters are taking advantage of the Notre-Dame fire to fool donors into handing over cash believing they are helping to rebuild the gutted Paris cathedral, officials warn.

The French Heritage Foundation, which has so far collected more than 13 million euros ($14.5 million) from individual donors to help restore the gothic landmark, says any phone or email appeals were fake. — AFP

April 17, 2019 - 7:34pm

France will invite architects from around the world to submit designs for rebuilding the spire of Notre-Dame cathedral that was destroyed in a devastating blaze, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Wednesday.

The goal is "to give Notre-Dame a new spire that is adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era," Philippe said at a press conference in Paris. -- Agence France-Presse

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