With over 850 years of age, Notre-Dame Cathedral stood the test of centuries before Monday's incident. Now it's time to remember—and rebuild. Here are 20 Notre-Dame images from before and after 2019's devastating fire.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame, in Paris, France, is one of the most recognizable and beloved landmarks in the world. It has been considered a patrimony of humanity for centuries: a standing homage to the ingenuity and artful creativity of human beings. Like the Pyramids of Egypt or the Roman Colosseum, Notre-Dame captured the essence of its time, embodied the best artistic virtues of an entire era, and stood as a symbol of Western civilization as a whole.
And then, after more than 850 years, a terrifying incident nearly brought it to the ground on April 15, 2019. In the wake of the catastrophe, it's time to remember—and to rebuild. Here are 20 Notre-Dame images from before and after Monday's devastating fire, shown in historical order.
This is important: Paris' Historical Notre-Dame Cathedral Is On Fire
Notre-Dame stands on the Île de la Cité, a small island on the Seine in central Paris. Widely considered to be one of the best examples of medieval Gothic architecture, in particular of the French variant, Notre-Dame staggers the eye with its elaborate sculptures and detailed facade.
The Gothic style is characterized by intricate designs on both the outer and inner walls, extensive use of stained glass and rose windows, and Notre-Dame is particularly famous among architecture enthusiasts for its novel rib vaults and flying buttresses.
Planning and construction of the Notre-Dame cathedral begun in 1160, under the orders of Bishop Maurice de Sully. Prior to that point, several other minor churches had stood on the site over the centuries, and pagan Roman temples yet before that.
These churches, though enlarged over the years, were deemed too small for the growing population of Paris, so Bishop Maurice decided it was time to build a much larger structure worthy of the city.
Notre-Dame was finished about 100 years later, in 1260. It was during this century that a notable innovation was introduced to the Gothic design and architecture. Prominently starting with this cathedral, builders added flying buttresses to the structure in order to support the walls from the outside, so that bigger and higher ones could be built in order to accommodate larger windows and artworks. This single innovation made Notre-Dame what it is today.
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Desecration and modernity
But the finished 1260 cathedral was not quite yet the building we all know and love. Over the centuries, several changes have been made.
In the 14th century, for instance, the flying buttresses were reinforced so the structure could support even higher and thinner walls. By this time, Notre-Dame was already one of the most important buildings in Paris—and in France, for that matter.
More changes had to come following deliberate attempts to desecrate the cathedral. In 1548, rioters damaged several statues in Notre-Dame, as they considered them idolatrous. By the 17th and into the 18th centuries, the whole interior had been rearranged to coincide with a more up-to-date style and the original windows had been removed and replaced with white ones to allow more light to come into the church. Damaged by centuries of wind, the original spire was removed during the second half of the 18th century.
But the biggest damage to the cathedral prior to 2019 came in 1793, after the French revolution. Most statues and treasures were destroyed, beheaded, or plundered, and the building itself was repurposed for secular use. The once-glorious Notre-Dame had fallen out of fashion.
In 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte agreed to restore the cathedral, which was eventually the site for his marriage and coronation as emperor. But well into the 18th century, Notre-Dame was still half-ruined.
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The great 18th-century restoration
Public interest was revived after Victor Hugo published The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, whose enormous success motivated King Louis Philippe to order a full restoration of the church in 1844.
The project was led and supervised by two architects, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who guided a grand team of sculptors, glass makers, and other artists to remake the original decoration based on old drawings, engravings, and imagination when these were lacking. They tried to recreate the whole construction in the spirit of the original style.
The spire was reconstructed at this time. New statues and gargoyles were also added to bring the cathedral closer to Victor Hugo's reimagining—which is what tourists were expecting to see, after all.
The results of this massive renovation project is mostly what we saw throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, before the 2019 fire.
The interior has also undergone several changes over the years, and it will need to undergo important reparations after the fire.
Virtually all of the ceiling's vaults were destroyed during the fire, along with the roof.
The cathedral's wooden framework for the roof and attic, known as "the forest," dated from the 12th century and was the oldest part of the whole construction. It was completely consumed by the fire.
Fortunately, two of the three great rose windows were not harmed.
The flying buttresses also survived.
Which, considering their importance and age, is great news.
A devastating fire
As renovations were being done, a massive fire broke out on the roof of Notre-Dame at around 6:30pm (Paris time), on Monday, April 15, 2019. The world watched in horror as one of the most treasured monuments in the world was threatened by the flames.
The whole roof came down, including most of the iconic spiral on top of the cathedral.
Firefighters struggled for hours before getting the fire under control.
But, after much effort and a nerve-wracking period where we didn't know how much could be saved, more than 400 firefighters finally managed to put the fire out.
Still, the damage was extensive, and the face of Notre-Dame is no longer the same.
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