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23 April, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 23 April, 2019 12:34:44 AM
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Notre Dame has managed to do what Emmanuel Macron could not

Colin Randall
Notre Dame has managed to do what Emmanuel Macron could not
Firefighters trying to put out a fire burning the roof of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris

By the strangest of coincidences, the fire that devastated one of France’s most emblematic monuments, Notre Dame cathedral, erupted just as president Emmanuel Macron was about to unveil his master plan for ending months of social unrest. The widely awaited televised broadcast was abruptly postponed less than half an hour before the president was due to speak. Instead, some hours later, he found himself at the scene of the fire making a quite different sort of declaration, though with the broadly similar aim of bringing together a troubled nation.

As hundreds of firefighters continued to battle the flames nearby, he expressed gratitude that the worst had been avoided. He acclaimed the 12th century Notre Dame, visited annually by about 13 million people, as “our history, our literature, our imagination, the place where France has lived all its great moments”. And he solemnly committed himself and the nation to its reconstruction.

Indeed, it is impossible to overstate the sense of grief felt by French people of all faiths and beliefs. Notre Dame is Paris, as powerful a symbol of the City of Light as the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe. There is almost tangible relief that the main structure of the cathedral, especially its twin towers and stained glass windows, have been spared. Yet the shocking spectacle of the 90-metre spire, devoured by flames before twisting and crumbling to the ground of the Ile de la Cite, the river island on which the cathedral stands, will remain long in the minds of millions. There were tears among people, Parisians and tourists alike, watching what they could from behind crowd control barriers, and in the eyes of television viewers as the blaze eerily transformed the capital’s dramatic skyline and swept scheduled programmes from their screens.

It made for a wretched scene, the images captured on countless cameras and shared with increasing horror and despair on social media platforms. Unlike the loss of other cultural monuments in recent years, the destruction appeared to have accidental origins, linked to the renovation of the cathedral and not to man-made acts of terror. Mercifully, no one died and only one person, a fireman, was seriously hurt. Notre Dame’s decimation brings memories of other appalling incidents of cultural destruction in modern history to mind: the deliberate bombing of Al Nuri mosque in Mosul and much of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra by ISIS, or the dynamiting of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by Taliban fighters. In Paris, hours after firefighters finally mastered the blaze, and with the cathedral still smouldering, there was lingering disbelief at the rapid and enormous effects of an apparent workday mishap, even if human carelessness turns out to be involved. There were echoes of 1992, when a spotlight shining on curtains caused a huge blaze at the Windsor Castle residence of Queen Elizabeth II. One leading French historian, Stephane Bern, speculated that it could take 40 years or more to restore the cathedral fully.

Mr Bern was in tears as the flames rose skyward, jets of water trained on the fire seeming pathetic beneath the magnitude of the task. He spoke movingly of a place of worship central to French history that had withstood the ravages of insurrection and warfare. Protestant Huguenots attacked the cathedral in the 16th century, as did mobs in the French revolution nearly 250 years later.

Notre Dame survived two world wars almost unscathed. But had Adolf Hitler’s dying Nazi regime survived just a few more days, and German forces obeyed his order to let Paris burn, Notre Dame might have been reduced to ruins 75 years ago.

The writer is a UK based journalist

 

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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