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See Notre Dame in 16 vintage photos from our archive

Century-old photos from our collection show the Notre Dame Cathedral as a timeless icon.

ON MONDAY, AS the final trickle of tourists left the Notre Dame Cathedral, smoke was seen coming from its famous spire. Within minutes, flames were wrapped around the medieval structure which sits in the centre of Paris.

National Geographic began photographing the world-famous landmark with a series of black-and-white images of it in 1915. Since then, every angle of the cathedral has decorated our pages—shown during its 800th birthday celebration and in detailed dissections of Gothic architecture.

Soon after the last tourists left of Notre Dame on April 15, smoke began pouring from the 90-metre spire. The cause of the fire is yet unknown, but the spire and wooden interior are said to have collapsed.

The spire has collapsed, and much of the wooden interior is said to be destroyed, but it's unclear how much damage the fire has caused. A few days earlier, 16 of the copper structures surrounding the base of Notre Dame were removed as part of a multi-million dollar restoration project. The building, which attracts nearly 13 million visitors per year, has undergone renovations throughout its millennium-old history.

"[A]s if to celebrate the death of the Dark Ages, the church of Our Lady of Paris came into being, product of the minds, hands, purses—but particularly of the hearts—of her people," National Geographic wrote in a story on Notre Dame in 1968. Since then, "the Parisians have adored it, neglected it, damaged and desecrated it, restored and venerated it, depending on the social passions and fashions of the times. Notre Dame lives on, as a church, as a joyful place, as a work of art."

Seated on the Seine River, the Notre Dame Cathedral (shown here in the 1920s) has been a symbol of Paris for centuries. In mid-April, a fire ravaged the structure, causing irreparable damage.

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