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Why Notre Dame Cathedral Is So Important To Paris

Fire continues to devastate the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, destroying its internal structure as well as priceless pieces of art and history.

So, why is Notre Dame so important?

The world-famous cathedral, often referred to as 'Our Lady of Paris'  is one of the city's most treasured landmarks and draws over 13 million visitors every year-- 30,000 per day on average.

It is a site of sacred pilgrimage for Catholics globally and is considered the beating heart of French Catholicism, open to the public every day for Mass.

Notre Dame survived the French Revolution, World War I and the Nazi occupation of France.

Source: Alex Anastassiou

The cathedral took more than a century to build after construction began in 1163 and was originally commissioned by King Louis VII, who intended it as a symbol of Paris' newly-established political, economic, and intellectual power.

In 2013, France celebrated Notre Dame's 850th birthday.

READ MORE: Notre Dame Is Burning And People Across The Internet Are Devastated

READ MORE: Fire Is Tearing Through Paris' Iconic Notre Dame Cathedral

The building is also referred to as "The Forest" due to the wooden beams that comprise its skeleton.

Each of the 1,300 beams was crafted from a different tree 300 to 400 years old.

It is an immense structure that stretches 128 metres across a small island in the Seine in central Paris. The spire was 96 metres tall and contained artefacts that are considered sacred to Roman Catholics, including a relic that is believed to have belonged to Jesus' crown of thorns.

Source: Alex Anastassiou

Notre Dame has a rich history -- it is the site of both the consecration of Napoleon Bonaparte as emperor and the beatification of Joan of Arc in 1909, centuries after she was burned at the stake.

During the French Revolution in the late 18th Century, the building was considered a symbol of the monarchy and it was robbed of its treasures and ransacked by crowds. Biblical kings carved in stone were decapitated by mobs and these heads weren't discovered until 1977 during work on the basement of the neighbouring French Bank of Foreign Trade.

It is also the site of the De Taum mass that has been held throughout French history to mark momentous occasions such as the coronation of Kings. The mass also took place at the end of World War I and after the liberation of France in World War II.

The building has many historical components that are considered priceless, including the imposing Great Organ, the largest organ in the world, that was built in 1401  and dominates one side of the interior.

Source: Alex Anastassiou

The South Tower contains the Emmanuel Bell, which was cast in 1681 and weighs 13 tonnes.

Notre Dame achieved widespread attention and became a site of legend following the publishing of Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The book informed readers about the cathedral's dilapidated condition and spurred restoration of its stonework.

Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris. Photo: AP

However, the 19th Century restoration was poor-quality and the city has been grappling with the slow degradation of the building over the past 200 years while scrambling for funds to care for the structure.

The cathedral was undergoing $180 million renovations when it caught fire.