A major fire has engulfed the medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, one of France’s most famous landmarks.
The 850-year-old Gothic building’s spire and roof have collapsed but the main structure, including the two bell towers, has been saved, officials say.
Firefighters are still working to contain the blaze as teams are trying to salvage the artwork stored inside.
President Emmanuel Macron called it a “terrible tragedy”. The cause of the fire is not yet clear.
But officials say it could be linked to the renovation work that began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has opened an inquiry into “accidental destruction by fire”.
Visiting the scene, Mr Macron said the “worst had been avoided” and that an international fundraising scheme to rebuild the cathedral would be launched.
How did the fire spread?
The fire began early on Monday evening and quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained-glass windows and the wooden interior before toppling the spire.
Firefighters worked for hours to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing.
But the main structure had been “saved and preserved” from total destruction, Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said.
Deputy Paris Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said the cathedral had suffered “colossal damages”, and teams were working to save the cathedral’s remaining valuable artwork.
Speaking to French broadcaster BFMTV, historian Camille Pascal said “invaluable heritage” had been destroyed, adding: “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame. We can be only horrified by what we see”.
How have people reacted?
Thousands of people gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.
Several churches around Paris rang their bells in response to the blaze.
Notre-Dame cathedral fire
Mr Macron, who cancelled an address to the nation because of the fire, said the cathedral was a building “for all French people”, including those who had never been there.
“We will rebuild Notre Dame together”, he said as he praised the “extreme courage” and “professionalism” of the firefighters.
A symbol of a country
Analysis by Henri Astier, BBC World Online
No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame. Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.
It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre-Dame de Paris.
The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. It survived two world wars largely unscathed.
Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of a nation burn and its spire collapse is profoundly shocking to any French person.
Facts about Notre-Dame
- The church receives almost 13 million visitors each year, more than the Eiffel Tower
- It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and is currently undergoing major renovations
- Several statues of the facade of the Catholic cathedral were removed for renovation
- The roof, which has been destroyed by the blaze, was made mostly of wood
- Read more about the treasures that make the cathedral so special
What has been the international reaction?
The Vatican has said news of the fire has caused “shock and sadness,” adding that it was praying for the French fire services.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a tweet: “My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral”.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her support to the people of France, calling Notre-Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.
US President Donald Trump suggested “perhaps flying water tankers” could be used to extinguish the fire.
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