Parisians gathered in sadness as flames continued enveloping the historic edifice, at which construction began in 1163, and that survived multiple world wars, plagues and revolutions.
People watched in disbelief from across the city and on global social media as the cathedral’s spire fell towards the ground. Some took photos, as others sang in unison.
Videos and photographs from the scene showed many bowing their heads and consoling each other in large groups. Dozens of people were lined up near the cathedral on their knees, praying and watching as it continued burning into nightfall.
The commander general of the Paris Fire Brigade told reporters the next moments in the battle to quell the flames will ultimately determine what can be preserved of Notre Dame.
“There’s a risk that the great bell falls. If the bell falls, it’s the tower that collapses,” he said at the scene. “There are firefighters inside and outside. The next hour and a half will be crucial.”
At least 400 firefighters responded to the blaze, according to the French Interior Ministry, according to officials.
World leaders have lamented to the blaze and its impact on world culture.
The UN secretary general said he was “horrified” of the imagery coming out of France, calling Notre Dame “a unique example of world heritage that has stood tall since the 14th century” in a tweet.
Donald Trump also described the cathedral as “beyond countries,” saying “it’s a part of our culture.”