Fire damages tower in medieval French city Carcassonne

A tower in the medieval city of Carcassonne (Aude, Occitanie) has been damaged by a fire caused by a fireworks display held to celebrate the Fête Nationale on July 14.

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The structure of the tower - known as the tower of the Inquisition - remains largely intact, but work will be necessary to repair significant fire damage. An investigation into the cause of the incident will be launched.

Fire was first declared during a fireworks display held on the building to celebrate the Fête Nationale on Sunday July 14. It was quickly controlled by firefighters, according to reports from Philippe Bélaval, president of heritage group le Centre des Monuments Nationaux, who visited the scene.

Mr Bélaval said: “[The tower] has not been totally burned away”, but the exact impact of the fire and water on the structure’s “stability and waterproofing” remains to be seen. A protective covering will likely be placed over the tower pending repair work, he added.

Initial reports suggest that the fire could have been caused by a fireworks rocket falling through the roof tiles, or by falling incandescent material. Mr Bélaval confirmed that “an inquiry would be opened” to determine the fire’s exact cause.

He said: “It is up to the town and the authorities to see if the safety conditions are satisfactory, and if there is now a need to review the procedures [of the fireworks].”

The tower is part of the medieval buildings for which Carcassonne is famous, but most of the damaged frame actually dates back to significant restoration work done in the 19th century by French architect Viollet-le-Duc. He also designed the stricken spire of the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, which was itself completely damaged by fire in April this year.

Yet, Mr Bélaval stressed that the damage at Carcassonne was in no way comparable to the “gravity” of what happened at Notre-Dame.

The fire is the second incident of its kind to affect Carcassonne in the past 10 years. In 2011, a square bishop’s tower was also damaged by a fire caused by fireworks.

The medieval Cité de Carcassonne was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It receives more than three million visitors every year, and is considered to be one of the largest, and best-preserved, examples of a medieval town in Europe.

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