On Monday night, flames marred the skyline surrounding two of the world’s most prominent holy sites: Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral and Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The former suffered significant losses, including its iconic spire and a lattice network of wooden beams that constituted the medieval church’s attic, but retained its overall stone structure. The latter escaped relatively unscathed, sustaining damage to a single mobile guard booth.
As Tom O’Connor writes for Newsweek, the Notre-Dame fire “largely overshadowed” the smaller Al-Aqsa one, attracting an outpouring of international shock, grief and, in the days following the blaze, generous pledges of support. Beyond the coincidental timing of the parallel disasters, O’Connor adds, there appears to be no evidence linking the fires, both of which remain under investigation but neither are believed to be the result of foul play.
According to the Palestine News Agency, as referenced by Gulf News, the Al-Aqsa fire broke out in a guard’s room near the roof of the Marwani Prayer Room, also known as Solomon’s Stables. Although the flames threatened a 2,000-year-old section of the house of worship, the Times of Israel’s Adam Rasgon reports that firefighters were able to successfully contain the blaze before it could spread beyond a wooden booth where guards sat when it rained.
In total, the fire—suspected to have been started by children playing in the courtyard—lasted around seven minutes. No casualties or lasting damage to the compound’s permanent structures were reported.
طواقم الإطفاء تخمد حريقاً اندلع على سطح المصلى المرواني في المسجد الأقصى. pic.twitter.com/CVx8X7nx4N— المركز الفلسطيني للإعلام (@PalinfoAr) April 15, 2019
Al-Aqsa, a mosque considered to be the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina, is situated in the Old City section of East Jerusalem. Standing alongside the Dome of the Rock, a monumental, gold-capped shrine sacred to both Islam and Judaism, the mosque is one of two major religious buildings found in a complex alternatively known as Haram as-Sherif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and the Temple Mount. Both the overall site and Al-Aqsa specifically have emerged as key spots of contention in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
During the early eighth century, Al-Aqsa’s original seventh-century structure was razed in favor of erecting a larger mosque. In the centuries since, ArchDaily’s Dima Southi explains, the mosque has been demolished and rebuilt a grand total of six times. During the Crusades, Al-Aqsa’s role as an Islamic prayer hall was temporarily revoked; today, the building hosts more than 5,000 worshippers at a time.
In the aftermath of the Monday fires, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, stressed the importance of preserving places of worship, telling the Palestine News Agency that Al-Aqsa and similarly holy sites hold “great religious and humanitarian value [for] us.”
Reflecting on the Notre-Dame inferno, Abbas went on to offer “solidarity and sympathy [to] our friends in France.”