For Parisians, the towering Notre-Dame Cathedral is a symbol of national identity; of what it means to be French. It’s also one of the most famous landmarks in Paris, attracting more than 13 million international visitors a year. On the afternoon of Monday, April 15, 2019, a great fire broke out in the Cathedral’s rafters. French nationals and tourists alike lined the banks of the Seine, watching the catastrophic event unfold before their very eyes. Additionally, millions of others watched the news in disbelief. But what is the history of this glorious piece of Gothic architecture?

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01When Was Notre-Dame Built?

The fire at Notre-Dame was jarring for many reasons. One of these was the length of its construction of almost 200 years. Notre Dame, which means "Our Lady" in French, has been the heartbeat of Paris for centuries. Its location on an island in the heart of Paris, however, has been a place of worship for many. Notre-Dame's predecessor was built in the 10th Century, but the Cathedral as we know it today was built during the reign of Louis VII. Construction started in 1163 and was largely completed by 1260, but many additions were made over the next century.

notre dame sunset Nikada / Getty Images