Architectural treasures lost in the flames

In the wake of the terrible fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral and the blow it represents to world heritage, we ask ourselves to what extent are the monuments and the artistic legacy safe. Fire is, without a doubt, one of the worst enemies in these cases, as the flames quickly devour the structures of the buildings.

In a fire, losses are irreversibleThe fire destroys everything in its path. In the case of Notre Dame, thanks to the heroic action of firefighters and specialists, it has been possible to save the framework of the building and its towers. In this way, its identity is preserved and the titanic task of restoration becomes possible.

But many other architectural works were not so lucky and today they are only remembered through images or writings. in these lines We are talking about some of the most distinguished buildings that suffered the fierce attack of the flames.

The Great Library of Alexandria

Recreation of the Library of Alexandria / Wikimedia Commons

It was said that it housed more than 900,000 manuscripts and that it was the largest in the world at the time.. It must have been an unprecedented wonder, a luminous beacon of knowledge whose ground was trodden by sages like Archimedes or Euclid.


The Great Library of Alexandria was created a few years after the founding of the city by Alexander the Great, in 331 BC

Its complete destruction is not without questions and doubts. The most feasible sequence places as the first accident a fire in the year 47 BC Julius Caesar and his troops, joining forces with Cleopatra, tried to repel an attack on the city.

The emperor was besieged in the palace, while a fire would have spread to the library’s book deposit. Some 40,000 rolls were lost in that first incident.. What is certain is that it was the first of many disasters that brought about the decline of the Great Library.

Wars, diseases, earthquakes, political conflicts… In each of the attacks parchments were destroyed and burned. A slow descent into hell that began with fire and ended up erasing its trace in history. Although precise data on what he looked like is lacking, in 2002 the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina was opened to honor his memory.

Old St Paul’s Cathedral in London engulfed in flames

Engraving with the old Saint Paul’s Cathedral in flames / Wikimedia Commons

The old Gothic cathedral was built between 1087 and 1314, raising one of the tallest spiers in Europe at the time. During the 16th century, its deterioration and looting increased. In 1561 a lightning strike destroyed the imposing spire and it was not replaced.

Charles II of England plans in 1663 to restore its splendor. He hires the architect Christopher Wren, whose restoration plan is approved in 1666. Unfortunately, On September 2 of the same year, the Great Fire of London broke out..

The roof of the cathedral begins to burn on September 4. A large number of valuable objects had been stored inside, thinking that there they would be safe from the flames. The books only served to fuel the fire.

Most of the building was lost and it was decided to build a new church instead of rebuilding the old one. The baroque construction is the one that has reached today. The former is only known through paintings and engravings. The Great Fire swept through the city for three days, the only good part ending the bubonic plague in London.

The cathedral of León, rescued from the flames

Leon Cathedral

A story with less catastrophic consequences is that of the Pulchra Leonina. One of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in our country also has one of the largest collections of medieval stained glass windows in the world.

This jewel of our architecture was nearly lost on May 27, 1966. The cause was a fire that caused a strong lightning strike on the roof. In this case, the brave and risky decision of the master of the works that was being carried out, Andrés Seoane, saved the building from total disaster.

The master stonemason warned firefighters of the danger of using water to douse the flames: the light and porous stone would absorb it, increasing its weight and causing a collapse. Instead, foam was used and the cathedral was released from the flames.

The Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona, ​​a symbol of the city

Barcelona Lyceum – Sergio Morchon /

On January 31, 1994, the inhabitants of Barcelona were disconsolate. Sparks from an operator’s torch set off a terrible fire. Precisely, work was being done on the iron curtain to protect the theater in a possible fire.

The flames soon became uncontrollable, destroying the theater in just over 15 minutes and reducing it to its foundations. It was not the first time that it happened, but it was the biggest possible catastrophe.

After the great commotion and the massive mobilization of donations and sponsorship, the Liceo was able to be rebuilt in the same place on La Rambla. It reopened in 1999.

La Fenice of Venice, a sad story between flames

Inside La Fenice

It is one of the most iconic opera houses that existon whose stages works such as The Traviata of Verdi. It was inaugurated in 1792, after the fire that had destroyed the San Benedetto theater.

Unfortunately, on January 29, 1996 The Venice suffered the same fate as its predecessor. Although he had already suffered the rage of the fire before, this one was absolutely destructive. The misfortune increased when it was discovered that the flames had been provoked.


The canals of Venice were being drained at the time and the scarcity of water made it difficult for the firefighters. In a few hours, only ashes remained from the wooden building.

The reconstruction tasks were carried out by the prestigious architect Aldo Rossi. He chose to respect the original character of the theater and was not free from criticism. The reopening took place in 2003.

There have been countless times that monuments have suffered from fire. In 2018, the National Museum of Brazil caught fire. Not only was the 19th century palace lost, but also the most important collection of history and anthropology in Latin America. Serious fires in cities such as Lisbon, Chicago or San Francisco have meant incalculable losses for heritage that are still mourning today.

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