With the flames extinguished, the smoke clear and a new sun risen over Paris, the French got a heartening confirmation on Tuesday: The Cathedral of Notre-Dame still stands.
It is scorched, battered and missing its spire and much of its roof, but the 800-year-old Gothic masterwork that symbolized both a place and a culture is a monument to be repaired, not mourned.
Indeed, even as firefighters scoured the ashes and debris for any lingering embers, and investigators worked to determine the cause of the blaze, the French authorities were putting in motion an international fund-raising drive to reconstruct the landmark.
The devastating fire swept through the cathedral in the evening, riveting the world’s attention as nearly 500 firefighters raced to the scene. Thousands of Parisians gathered nearby to watch the effort to save it, and pray. Many were in tears.
As the last rush of tourists tried to get inside, the doors of Notre-Dame were shut abruptly and without explanation, witnesses said. Within moments, white smoke started rising from the spire, which, at 295 feet, was the highest part of the cathedral.
As it billowed out, the smoke started turning gray, then black, making it clear that a fire was growing inside the cathedral, which is covered in scaffolding. Soon, orange flames began punching out of the spire, quickly increasing in intensity.
Work on Notre-Dame, a celebrated icon of medieval architecture, began in 1163 and was completed in 1345. The cathedral, on an island in the center of Paris, is visited by about 13 million people a year.
“It is like losing a member of one’s own family,” said Pierre Guillaume Bonnet, 45, a marketing director. “For me, there are so many memories tied up in it.”
The largest of the cathedral’s bells, which dates to 1681, survived the French Revolution and has been rung at some of the most important events in French history, including both World Wars.