The Ardent Heritage Destruction by Fire

The distinguished Notre Dame Cathedral landmark known for its history and magnificence set aflame in central Paris.

Photo Credit: Hubert Hitier/AFP/Getty Images

The distinguished Notre Dame Cathedral landmark known for its history and magnificence set aflame in central Paris.

Luiza Decenzi, Reporter

For as long as their existence, artifacts and buildings holding immense historical and cultural value have been destroyed or loss prematurely for a variety of reasons. Whether it being due to natural disaster, wars, lootings, accidents, or deliberate havoc, relics have been disappearing from existence for thousands of years.

“I think, historical artifacts and buildings,” explained Mr. Olswanger, one of Boise High’s United States and A.P. World History teachers, demonstrate “the history of a place, by those things standing.” Speaking on the value of antiquities and monuments through time, Olswanger said, “for example, the Hagia Sophia, changed hands multiple times, so you look at a building like that, if that were to be destroyed, you would lose history from a variety of different cultures and religions.”

Unfortunately, the past year held three main calamities all caused by the same ancient assailant, fire. The first catastrophe of the set happened in Glasgow, Scotland on June 15th, 2018. On this day, students of Glasgow School of Art, watched the obliteration of the Mackintosh School of Architecture building. The fire’s extensive damage spread rapidly to the extent of the sole remainder of the stone walls. Roger Billcliffe, Scotland’s largest private gallery owner, stated, “It has been voted Britain’s most important building several times over,” which contributed to the impact of the loss of not only the classes of many students, but the history and culture of many locals.

The following tragedy took place later that same year on September 2nd, in the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The fire caused by either an electric fault could not be adequately extinguished due to the museum’s lack of a sprinkler system, and with the building, more than 30 thousand pieces relating to the Imperial Family burned to extinction, along with a Roman fresco from Pompeii, and archives of indigenous languages. “It goes back to not understanding the history of a place if that doesn’t exist anymore or if things are destroyed,” Olswanger disclosed, “a lot of these museums represent a city or a country, and I think a lot of the identity of that country is lost.”

Among the recovered items were the Bendegó and Angra dos Reis meteorites, aquatic specimens, and a majority of the remains of Luzia, an 11,500 year old skeleton of a woman found in a Brazilian cave considered one of the oldest American human skeletons discovered. Although the next several months raised about 280,500 dollars in donations, the crisis prompted an immense outcry of improper maintenance of irreplaceable cultural heritage.

Most recently was the burning of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris, France on April 15th, 2019. This latest destruction by fire shocked the world as the central tower and roof of the French Gothic staple architecture piece collapsed. The site is not only a Catholic Cathedral or the most popular tourist location in France, but a staple of French culture and a symbol of the Nation. “I think a lot of the times they are the tourist attractions, money makers for cities, they represent a city,” Olswanger contemplated.

The building constructed in 1163 has been the center of a variety of events holding historical value of different time periods–such examples include its desecration during the French Revolution, celebration during Napoleon I’s coronation, grieving during important funerals and popularity after Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Due to its historical and cultural value, reconstruction plans for the Cathedral have already been discussed, raising over one billion dollars in two days.

You take 9/11 for example, the Twin Towers, getting destroyed, you gotta rebuild something, even if it’s for a memorial, which they did in New York. But, I think, again, you mix different generations, even if something was built in the year one thousand, you can save some of the infrastructure, and then build with new technology, and it kind of mixes and creates a very unique piece of architecture,” Olswanger reflected.

Although the large amount of money donated in such a small time frame alleviated the worries of many citizens, others had a different perspective on the gesture. After the the immense amount of donations were released, posts on social media about the alternative purposes —such as cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, providing education and food to developing countries, and scientific research– that could also benefit from the funding, spread as rapidly as the fires.

To that matter, Mr. Olswanger shared his opinion, “I guess to me, the money comes from different places, like a lot of the money for restoring buildings comes from philanthropy… Some of this other stuff, I think if you actually got countries to buy in and countries to care about the environment a little more, they would provide government money.”

Although controversy over reconstruction plans remains an influential topic, the past year has time and again shown the dangers of fires and the necessity for the protection of objects and buildings holding cultural and historical value for a community.