Notre-Dame cathedral, the iconic symbol of the beauty and history of Paris, was scarred by an extensive fire on Monday evening that collapsed part of its delicate spire, bruised the Parisian skies with smoke and further disheartened a city already back on its heels after weeks of violent protests.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known, André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, said in a telephone interview, and there was no immediate indication that anyone had been hurt.
But the spectacle of flames leaping from the cathedral’s wooden roof — its spire glowing red then turning into a virtual cinder — stunned thousands of onlookers who gathered along the banks of the Seine and packed into the plaza of the nearby Hotel de Ville, gasping and covering their mouths in horror and wiping away tears.
The fire broke out about 6:30 p.m., upending President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to deliver an important policy speech about trying to heal the country from months of “Yellow Vest” demonstrations that had already defaced major landmarks in the capital and disfigured some of its richest streets.
The tragedy seemed to underscore the challenges heaped before his administration that has struggled to reconcile the weight of France’s ideals and history with the necessity for change to meet the demands of the 21st century.
France’s Interior Ministry said that 400 firefighters were battling the blaze.
A jewel of medieval Gothic architecture built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre-Dame, others noted, was a landmark not only for Paris, where it squats firmly yet gracefully at its very center, but for all the world. The cathedral is visited by about 30,000 people a day and around 13 million people a year.