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Why the 850-year-old Notre-Dame Cathedral is ‘incredibly flammable’

An architectural feat that led Paris’s famous Notre-Dame Cathedral to be known as ‘The Forest’ is now a major contributor in its destruction, as a fire rips through its all-wood frame.

A fire broke out at the 12th century cathedral around 6 p.m. GMT (2 p.m. EDT) Monday and quickly grew to engulf the entire wooden interior; the spire collapsed not long after the blaze began, and officials say the frame will be completely destroyed.

The entire frame of the 850-year-old building is made from timber, with an estimated 1,300 trees used for the construction of its beams.

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An architectural feat that led Paris’s famous Notre-Dame Cathedral to be known as ‘The Forest’ is now likely a major contributor in its destruction, as a fire rips through its all-wood frame

An architectural feat that led Paris’s famous Notre-Dame Cathedral to be known as ‘The Forest’ is now likely a major contributor in its destruction, as a fire rips through its all-wood frame

‘Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame,’ Notre-Dame spokesman Andre Finot told French media, according to the Associated Press.

According to the official website for the Notre Dame Cathedral, the frame includes roughly 52 acres of wood in total.

These timber beams make up its entire interior frame, and serves as the foundation for its 115-foot-high roof.

Officials now say there is ‘nothing left’ of the roof and expect the entire frame to be lost to the fire.

‘It makes sense that it would be incredibly flammable,’ notes Notre-Dame contributor Daniel Christian on the website for the landmark, which has been posting updates as the fire rages on.

Notre-Dame’s aging wooden foundation has been a topic of concern for some time, and a $6.8 million renovation project was underway to address some of the many issues at the historic building.

Statues overlooking the cathedral were removed just last week ahead of work on the famous spire that stood more than 300 feet above the ground.

Some parts have been closed off for upwards of a year, the website notes.

The frame includes roughly 52 acres of wood in total. These timber beams make up its entire interior frame, and serves as the foundation for its 115-foot-high roof

The frame includes roughly 52 acres of wood in total. These timber beams make up its entire interior frame, and serves as the foundation for its 115-foot-high roof

‘The inside is crumbling wood and gargoyles have been known to have fallen off the roof as of late,’ according to the website.

Construction on the Cathedral of Notre-Dame began around the year 1160 CE and lasted until about 1245, when the main body was completed.

There were several waves of construction which ultimately shaped it to be a ‘monument of exceptional historic and artistic importance,’ writes historian Caroline Bruzelius in a 1987 paper on the building.

And, it redefined the genre of Gothic architecture.

‘Taller, longer, and wider than any Gothic church before it, Notre-Dame incorporated numerous technical and structural advances,’ Bruzelius explained.

‘There we find the earliest example of the gigantism that was to become characteristic of Gothic architecture in the following generation of cathedrals.

‘The four-story elevation with oculi in the third story was unique at the time of its design. In addition, the flying buttresses of the nave of Notre-Dame have been considered the first in Gothic architecture, the result of the utilization of thin-wall construction, which necessitated additional exterior support.’

There were several waves of construction which ultimately shaped it to be a ‘monument of exceptional historic and artistic importance,’ writes historian Caroline Bruzelis in a 1987 paper on the building. And, it redefined the genre of Gothic architecture.

There were several waves of construction which ultimately shaped it to be a ‘monument of exceptional historic and artistic importance,’ writes historian Caroline Bruzelius in a 1987 paper on the building. And, it redefined the genre of Gothic architecture

The plan for the Cathedral, made by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, is pictured. The nave sits to the left, choir in the center, and apse and ambulatory to the right. Construction Notre-Dame began around the year 1160 CE and lasted until about 1245, when the main body was completed

The plan for the Cathedral, made by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, is pictured. The nave sits to the left, choir in the center, and apse and ambulatory to the right. Construction Notre-Dame began around the year 1160 CE and lasted until about 1245, when the main body was completed

After the foundation stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III, the high alter, choir, western façade, and nave followed. These were completed by the year 1250.

Work continued at the cathedral for the next 100 years, giving rise to additional porches, chapels, and other features.

The flying buttresses – or the high, arching beams – were not originally a part of the design. These were added after construction began to provide more support for the thin walls.

Over the centuries, the cathedral has suffered extensive damage, particularly in the 16th century when ‘both the Huguenots and the French king vandalized and changed a lot of the cathedral’s contents,’ according to the cathedral’s official website.

The flying buttresses – or the high, arching beams seen in the view above (left of center) – were not originally a part of the design. These were added after construction began to provide more support for the thin walls

The flying buttresses – or the high, arching beams seen in the view above (left of center) – were not originally a part of the design. These were added after construction began to provide more support for the thin walls

Notre-Dame’s aging wooden foundation has been a topic of concern for some time, and a $6.8 million renovation project was underway to address some of the many issues at the historic building

Notre-Dame’s aging wooden foundation has been a topic of concern for some time, and a $6.8 million renovation project was underway to address some of the many issues at the historic building

‘A lot of the features on the cathedral’s exterior were removed because they were considered to be idolatrous, and tombs and stained glass windows were destroyed in the name of modernization,’ the post continues.

A fire broke out at the 12th century cathedral around 6 p.m. GMT (2 p.m. EDT) Mon and grew to engulf the entire wooden interior

A fire broke out at the 12th century cathedral around 6 p.m. GMT (2 p.m. EDT) Mon and grew to engulf the entire wooden interior

‘The cathedral was converted into a storage warehouse for food, during the French Revolution, and the heads of many of Notre Dame’s statues were removed.’

The first restoration attempts began between 1845 and 1870, when much of the damage at the building was repaired and new features added

And, modern restorers have been working since the early 1990s to fix up the façade and sculptures.

While the most recent efforts aimed to focus on the spire, this feature has now been completely destroyed by the blaze after it ‘collapsed through the center.’

As the first started ‘in the center near the spire, where the scaffolding is,’ there have been suggestions that it may have been sparked by the renovation work. 

But, officials have not yet determined if this really played a part.

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