On April 15, half a year after a blaze consumed some 20 million artifacts and priceless archives in Rio de Janeiro’s 200-year-old Museo Nacional, an inferno engulfed Paris’s 850-year-old Notre-Dame Cathedral. The basilica and the museum are just two of the many landmarks that have been destroyed in recent years.
In 2017, Manhattan’s Beit Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue was gutted in a blaze. The structure, purpose built as a Baptist church in 1850 in Gothic Revival-style, was converted to a synagogue in 1885.
The Glasgow School of Art was consumed in a 2014 fire, and a $50 million restoration began. Last June, a second fire destroyed the Mackintosh building, harming the historic structure.
In 1996, Venice’s iconic La Fenice Opera House was badly damaged by fire. Firefighters brought hoses from far away because there were no hydrants on the street, despite Venice having many canals. The roof collapsed but the municipality vowed to rebuild it.
The Shroud of Turin was rescued in 1997 from a fire in the San Giovanni Cathedral in Turin. Firefighters heroically broke through “layers of bulletproof glass” to save it, according to The Guardian.
More than 1 million historic documents were destroyed in a 2015 fire in Russia. A huge loss for Russian history, the 2,000 sq. m. building had been built in 1918 and held 10 million documents.
A fire also harmed India’s National Museum of National History in 2016. Beginning on the sixth floor, it burned part of the building. Thousands of exhibits were damaged.
Some commentators in Paris mentioned the destruction of historic buildings across Europe during the Second World War. In Iraq, many mentioned the destruction of Mosul and the famous Hadba Minaret in the Great Nuri Mosque, destroyed in 2017 during the battle for the city. ISIS was thought to have purposely dynamited it, as it had destroyed historic sites in Palmyra and elsewhere. Fighting in Syria and Iraq also damaged many other historic sites. Similarly, the Taliban in 2001 blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas.
The extensive damage to Notre-Dame is a reminder of the many destroyed historic buildings that have fallen victim to arson or war.