As history went up in flames, the sound of song came from Paris’ streets

As history went up in flames, the sound of song came from Paris’ streets

Paris: It should have been a quiet Monday night in the French capital, but instead thousands lined the streets of central Paris. They had come to watch the cathedral of Notre Dame burn.

It was a scene no Parisian could have imagined. The roof of the church and its famous spire collapsed, thick smoke billowing from the interior in a blaze that took hours to bring under control.

People broke out in song as flames engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral.Credit:AP

The singers stopped only to applaud as fire trucks passed by, carrying the emergency workers who had battled for hours to put out a blaze that had totally consumed the cathedral’s wooden frame, its floors and most of its roof.

By midnight, the blaze was under control. Jets of water poured steadily through the collapsed roof, quelling flames that many had feared would bring the whole structure to the ground. A small cloud of smoke hung over the building, and embers puffed out of its now-burned-out rose window, a 13th-century marvel of stained glass now melted by the inferno.

The gothic spires glittered like matchsticks and the flanks of the building were lit with the red and blue lights cast by emergency vehicles.

Notre Dame had burned, but the worst had been avoided, and its monumental towers still stood.

Max, 30, who was born and raised in Paris, sat on the banks of the Seine and sketched the scene in a small notebook.

But for Marie-Chantal, as for many in the crowd that evening, the overall feeling was relief.

“I’d been following the news on my phone for three hours. I had to stop and come here,” he said. “It’s a way of understanding what happened.”

“I was born here, I’ve passed by an incalculable number of times. It’s the heart of Paris.”

Marie-Chantal, a piano teacher, arrived by bike as the crowds began to disperse.

“I came because I could not believe the news,” she said. “I have to accept it, now I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s eight centuries of our history – all the biggest moments have happened there.”

She said the feeling of shock and horror was a familiar one for residents of a city marked by tragedy in recent years.

“It was the same kind of reaction I had when my neighbourhood was hit by the terrorist attacks.”

But for Marie-Chantal, as for many in the crowd that evening, the overall feeling was relief.

"We will rebuild," she said, echoing the words of French President Emmanuel Macron an hour earlier.

Around 1am, two grey-haired women walked up Rue Saint-Julien le Pauvre, and approached the police tape that cordoned off access to the island on which Notre Dame stands.

Together, they looked up at the looming edifice, still standing after facing down the worst threat in its history.

“Ok, she’s there,” said one to the other, reassured, before turning around and walking back into the Paris night.

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