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After Notre Dame, What Iconic Buildings Around the World Are at Risk of Fire?

© AP Photo / Thibault CamusFlames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019 - Sputnik International
French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to rebuild the 850-year-old cathedral of Notre-Dame after a major fire devastated the Paris landmark on Monday night. The incident highlighted the risk facing dozens of iconic buildings around the world.

The blaze, which raged for nine hours, is believed to be linked to renovation work which was underway at the time.

The fire began at around 6.30pm local time on 15 April and quickly spread to the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained glass windows and toppling its spire.

It is thought the blaze may have been triggered by a spark from a welder's torch or some other piece of building equipment.

So what other buildings are threatened by fire?

Houses of Parliament, London

Westminster Hall was built in 1099 and is the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament.

Most of the 1,100-room Palace of Westminster dates from the mid-19th century and replaced the previous building, which was devastated by fire in 1834.

The Palace is now a Grade I listed building and, with Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church, forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But the ageing building is in desperate need of a makeover to make it fit for purpose for the 21st century. In January 2018 Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, said it faced "critical risks" with 60 episodes in recent years which could have led to a serious fire.

Last year MPs agreed to a "full and timely decant", designed to allow essential repairs, which could cost £5.6 billion.

The modernisation project will not take place until 2025 and there will now be huge concerns that a spark from a builder's welding torch could set off a conflagration which would destroy the building and the iconic Big Ben clocktower.

The Kremlin, Russia

The Kremlin was originally built, in wood, in 1339, shortly after the Mongols devastated the region but Catherine The Great replaced it with a modern stone fortress in 1773.

In September 1812 with Napoleon's invading army approaching Moscow, Count Fyodor Rostopchin ordered The Kremlin be torched. The blaze destroyed most of the city.

The Kremlin was rebuilt in 1819 and the Grand Kremlin Palace — which nowadays houses Russian Presidents — was added in 1849.

During the Second World War, the Kremlin avoided major damage as the German artillery could not reach the centre of Moscow.

The Kremlin remains under threat of fire even today and it is not known if sprinkler systems have been installed.

St Mark's Cathedral, Venice

The Basilica, or Cathedral, of St Mark in the centre of Venice is a must-see for any tourist visiting the Italian city.

It built in the ninth century to house the remains of St Mark.

Tourists visiting the cathedral recently will have noticed extensive scaffolding around the dome of the narthex, the main entrance to the basilica.

The work was to preserve ancient mosaics which were at risk of detaching from their wall support.

Restoration work is now underway on mosaics adjacent to those in the narthex. 

If a fire were to break out during this work and spread throughout the building it would be catastrophic and a blow to Venice on a par with that just suffered by Paris.

It could even conceivably spread to the equally historic Doge's Palace next door.

Taj Mahal, Agra

The Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum which was built between 1631 and 1648 in the Indian city of Agra.

It is the most iconic building in India and attracts millions of tourists from around the world every year.

There have been fears it could be targeted by enemies of India — such as Pakistan or Islamist extremists — despite the fact that it was actually constructed by a Muslim, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

The Taj Mahal is a UNESCO world heritage site and a fire there would be keenly felt not just in India but around the world.

Thankfully, due to its marble construction, it is not at high risk of fire.

In fact a bigger threat is from pollution. India has banned buildings from an area of 10,000 square kilometres around the Taj and in 1996 the Indian Supreme Court banned the use of coal by industries the so-called Taj Trapezium Zone.

The White House, Washington DC

The White House has caught fire once before — in fact, the British were responsible.

In 1812 Britain and the United States went to war after Washington got fed up of the British arming Native American tribes who were resisting the US's westward expansion.

Britain, defending its possessions in Canada, had naval supremacy and defeated the Americans.

In 1814 British forces landed in Maryland and marched on Washington.

A Union flag was raised over the city and British troops set fire to both the White House and the Capitol to teach the Americans a lesson they would not forget.

The White House was rebuilt in 1817 but was massively refurbished and remodeled in 1950, in what is often known as the Truman Reconstruction.

Nowadays the building has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, eight staircases, and three elevators across six floors.

A fire in the White House would be a huge embarrassment to the United States, although Donald Trump uses the building far less than previous Presidents, preferring to base himself in one of his New York hotels or at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Great Mosque, Mecca

The Masjid al-Haram, or Grand Mosque, in Mecca is the most sacred site in the Islamic world and a fire there would be met with horror among Muslims globally.

In 2015 Muslims were horrified when a crane toppled over near the Grand Mosque, killing 107 people.

The mosque — which houses the holy Kaaba which is the focus for the annual haj pilgrimage — was originally constructed by Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab in the seventh century.

The current mosque, which dates from 1571, can accommodate up to 770,000 worshippers at a time.

In recent years stampede rather than fire has been a greater threat to pilgrims in Mecca — in 2015 more than 2,000 pilgrims died in a stampede near the Jamaraat Bridge.

The last time a major religious building was damaged was in 1985 when India sent its armed forces into the Golden Temple in Amritsar — the holiest site in the Sikh faith — to expel Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and a group of separatist rebels.

The backlash against Operation Blue Star led to India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi being assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

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