Smoke rose from renowned Paris mansion Hotel Lambert after 170 firefighters spent all night battling a huge blaze that engulfed it.
Built in the 1640s, the building has a rich history. Musicians, writers and political exiles have all resided within its walls over the centuries. The Lambert has been owned by Prince Abdullah Bin Abdullah Al-Thani of Qatar since 2007.
It is not known how the fire began. Pascal Le Testu from the Parisian fire service explained why battling the flames was difficult.
“The roof has partially collapsed, as well as some of the stairs, so we’ve had to tackle the fire from outside. The second problem is that the building is undergoing renovations, so there are a lot of hazardous materials in there, such as acetylene bottles,” Le Testu said.
Parisians have been saddened by the damage to the historic residence – where the composer Chopin was known to work and the philosopher Voltaire once hid out with his lover.
One local surveying the damage said: “It had wonderful ceilings. Unfortunately, when you see how they had to chop into the roof with axes, you have to ask yourself questions (about their survival).”
“This is a setback for our historical heritage,” Paris Mayor Bernard Delanoe told journalists at the scene.
By the time the fire was put out, 650 square metres (7,000 square feet) of the roof had gone, part of a central staircase and some facade masonry had collapsed and rooms had been damaged by water and smoke, Le Testu said.
Art historians were evaluating the damage to works of art, which firefighters had tried to protect, the fire service spokesman added.
The Hotel Lambert is considered one of the finest examples of 17th century French architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located on the Ile Saint-Louis island on the River Seine it was one of the best preserved private mansions in Paris. Its architect Louis Le Vau also designed the Palace of Versailles.