‘I’d equate it to one’s first heartbreak’

As one of the most iconic Catholic cathedrals and tourist landmarks across the world burns in front of our eyes, those who knew the building best say today doesn’t feel real.

The iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris is ablaze as thousands of bystanders watch the 850-year-old landmark burn.

Tour guides who work inside the Notre Dame every day have spoken of their heartbreak watching the cathedral go up in flames. Picture: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP.Source:AFP

The fire, which has engulfed the roof of the cathedral and caused the iconic spire to topple, has shaken the world, especially those who worked in the building every day.

Tour guides present and former said the inferno was a “great shock” and fear nothing will be left of their workplace, which holds so much beauty, history and culture.

Former tour guide Gracia Vargas told USA Today that she found out about the inferno at Notre Dame through social media, not realising the magnitude of the blaze until she watched a video.

“I honestly clicked on the link thinking it probably wouldn’t be a big deal,” she said. “Evidently, it is a big deal.”

Ms Vargas, who volunteered at Notre Dame in 2013, said the summer job was one of the best experiences of her life and that she was “devastated” by what has happened in Paris today.

The cathedral is one of France’s most popular tourist attractions, second to the Eiffel Tower, and draws about 13 million tourists each year.

Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot told French media that “everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame” of the beloved structure.

The fire has reportedly spread to one of the church’s landmark rectangular towers, according to an Associated Press reporter who says there are flames behind an oblong stained-glass window in the tower.

A Paris fire official said the main structure had been “saved and preserved”, the BBC reported. But deputy interior minister Laurent Nunes told reporters it was “not certain” that it could be saved.

The city should expect the tourism industry to take a “significant” hit, according to The Independent.

A woman reacts as she watches flames engulf the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the French capital Paris. Picture: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFPSource:AFP

‘I think this is why today’s loss hurts so much. I’d equate it to one’s first heartbreak.’ Picture: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP.Source:AFP

“The fire will significantly distort visitor patterns in the city’s tourist industry,” travel correspondent Simon Calder wrote.

“The average 36,000 daily visitors who spend two or three hours at the landmark will want to go to other locations during their stay.

An image taken from a television screen shows an aerial view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames. Picture: Stringer / AFPSource:AFP

A former guide for tour company Bike About said the destruction is akin to “one’s first heartbreak”.

“Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame likely had the greatest impact on our appreciation for this particular church,” he told USA Today.

Some suggest the disaster will impact tourism in Paris. Picture: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFPSource:AFP

“For me, it’s the centre of the city, and if you look at the geography, it is literally in the centre of the city.

“Regardless of your nationality, you probably grew up reading this novel or watching Disney’s interpretation of the French classic. For many people, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame inspired their love of French culture. I think this is why today’s loss hurts so much. I’d equate it to one’s first heartbreak.”

Thousands of people watch on as the 850-year-old cathedral burns. Picture: AP Photo/Christophe Ena.Source:AP

Mr Vargas said he’s doubtful whether Notre Dame will ever recover from the significant damage to the building.

“The structure has been through so much,” he said. “It’s been through two World Wars. … It’s survived through so many destructive phases in history that it didn’t occur to me that on a random Monday, something like this could happen.”

Entry to the cathedral has always been free, and it had one of the longest opening hours of any attraction in France.

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