15 Priceless Historical Monuments that were Destroyed and Rebuilt
Disasters happen. Sometimes they destroy priceless historical monuments in the process. While it can be painful to see these beautiful landmarks reduced to rubble or ash, sometimes there is a silver lining. There are numerous stories of successful rebuilding and restoration that will raise your spirits.
Let’s take a look at some of the most glorious restorations of historic buildings.
1. The White House fire of 1814
What we now call the White House used to be called the “President’s House,” and it burned to ash in 1814. During the War of 1812, British troops invaded Washington D.C. and set fire to several buildings — including the President’s House. Elated at the victory, British military officers dined in the deserted building before gutting it and setting it aflame.James Madison and first lady, Dolley, were able to escape to safety after the Brits won the Battle of Bladensburg. Madison actually took command of a battery during the battle and is to this day the only president to have fought while in office.
The White House is rebuilt
When British troops realized they were unable to hold the Capitol, they retreated. Madison was able to return the next day, vowing to rebuild the city. Other buildings that were set on fire included the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress, and the House of Representatives. Fortunately, a downpour put out the flames before the historical sites were all destroyed.
James Hoban, the architect of the original building oversaw the reconstruction of the White House. President James Monroe moved into the building in 1817, but it would be several more years before the current iteration was completed. The White House today is the same building, though it has endured numerous restorations throughout the years.
2. The Royal Exchange in London burned down in 1666
The “Great Fire of London” was catastrophic, and destroyed about four-fifths of the city. Almost unbelievably, only 16 people were reported to have died during the blaze. Among the destruction was the Royal Exchange, a commercial trading post modeled after the Antwerp Stock Exchange by London Merchant Sir Thomas Gresham. The Royal Exchange was opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571.
The fire spread so quickly due to the medieval construction of the majority of London’s buildings and houses. Oak timber was used as the primary structural material, so many of the poorer homes were coated in tar to keep the rain out (which obviously made them incredibly vulnerable to fire).
The Royal Exchange is rebuilt
By 1666, the Royal Exchange had become vital to commerce, so it needed to be rebuilt along with the rest of the charred city. King Charles II laid the foundation stone of one of the columns, and enjoyed a large feast in celebration, reportedly paying the workers 20 pounds of gold. Talk about getting paid your going rate!
Mr. Jerman, a city surveyor, designed the reconstruction after Christopher Wren’s (who oversaw much of the reconstruction efforts) design fell through. Workers completed construction in 1669, and the building resumed its role as a hub of trade for another 170 years — when disaster struck once again.
3. The Royal Exchange burns down again in 1838
The building caught fire once again on Jan. 10, 1838, probably caused by an overheated stove in Lloyd’s coffee-house. Fire response was slow since the gates to the building had to be forced open, and the nearest fire-engine was frozen beyond use.
The building’s eight bells sounded as the fire raged, playing “Life let us cherish,” “God save the Queen,” and “There’s nae Luck aboot the Hoose,” before they tumbled and broke the entrance arch. The statue of Gresham, the designer of the original Royal Exchange was destroyed in the blaze. As bad as it was, it could have been worse — if the winds had been blowing the opposite direction, St. Bartholomew’s Church would also likely have been devastated.
The Royal Exchange is rebuilt again in 1844
Sir William Tite designed the third iteration of the Royal Exchange, after competing for the approval of his design against Charles Robert Cockerell. Tite loosely based his design on the Pantheon of Rome. While excavating the site, workers found remnants of an ancient Roman courtyard. These artifacts were brought to the Corporation Museum at the Guildhall.
Queen Victoria opened the building in October 1844. The Royal Exchange resembles the Roman designs which served as the inspiration and includes Italian Renaissance art. A well-known tourist attraction, the rebuilt and revamped site stands to this day and hosts various high-end retail stores.
4. San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel crumbled in 1906
The city of San Francisco, California has been through several catastrophes throughout its history, including the devastating earthquake of 1906, which killed approximately 3,000 people. The Fairmont Hotel in the center of the city survived the quake but not the subsequent fires.
The massive quake’s epicenter was in the center of San Francisco but was felt all the way from Oregon to Los Angeles. The event and lasted just under a minute and baffled scientists at the time. It was not fully understood until about a half-century later with the advent of plate tectonics. Despite the sheer destruction of the catastrophe, reconstruction was swift.
Fairmont Hotel is rebuilt just a year later
In 1907, the newly rebuilt Fairmont Hotel opened its doors. Opening night saw much jubilation, where fireworks were lit and hundreds of pounds of turtles and around 13,000 oysters were served. Though the building was rebuilt quickly, the process was not without tribulation.
Stanford White, the original architect hired for the job was murdered by paranoid multimillionaire Harry Thaw — who alleged White had taken advantage of his wife. The hotel’s owners Herb and Hartland Law then commissioned Julia Morgan to complete the project. Her team worked tirelessly to complete the project, ultimately succeeding in opening the hotel on Au. 18, 1907.
5. Bombings destroyed the Frauenkirche church in Dresden in WWII
Many people know the story behind the bombing of Dresden in February of 1945. Allied forces carried out an attack on the German city, a days-long air raid that claimed an unconfirmed number of casualties (estimations vary between 35,000 and 500,000 deaths). Among the rubble was the historic Frauenkirche Dresden, which was nearly leveled during the bombing.
The protestant church was originally built in the 18th century and was designed by George Bähr (who didn’t live to see its completion). Centuries later, the dome crumbled in on the final morning of the raid — approximately 6,000 tons of stone fell to the earth. The church remained in ruins for the next 45 years under Communist rule.
Frauenkirche Dresden is rebuilt after nearly half a century in ruins
After the church remained in disrepair for decades, it was rebuilt following the reunification of Germany. An organization called “The Society to Promote the Reconstruction of the Frauenkirche” began a relentless campaign that spurred various other campaigns in Germany and abroad aimed at the reconstruction of the historic church.
Their efforts were rewarded when reconstruction began in January 1993. Based on Bähr’s original plans and designs from 1702, the project was finally completed in 2000. Much of the rubble from the original church was recycled in construction, and visitors can clearly see the difference between the wear on the older stones and the new. The statue of Martin Luther (that survived the bombing) was restored and stands in front of the church.
6. York Minster fire of 1984
On July 9, 1984, the roof of York Minster was engulfed in flames. It was likely caused by lightning striking an electrical box, though investigators couldn’t completely rule out arson or electrical fault due to the severity of the damage. Firefighters responded around 3 a.m., quickly realizing the roof would have to be destroyed in order to save the rest of the building.
The fire would cause an estimated £2.25m in damage to the historic building. The roof was essentially gone, and the beautiful rose window cracked in around 40,000 places when temperatures reached close to 450C. Firefighters and minster staff scrambled to salvage what they could while the fire was being contained.
Reconstruction of York Minster
The historic site was originally completed over a period of 250 years, finishing construction in 1472. Fortunately, it didn’t take nearly as long to rebuild, despite the insistence that only traditional materials be used in reconstruction — save the use of fire retardant to prevent similar disasters in the future.
The church enlisted the help of many volunteers to reconstruct the building. Hundreds of oak trees were donated to repair the wooden roof, and stonemasons re-carved the stonework and bosses. A contest among local children decided the design of six of the bosses. The entire process took four years. Looking at it now, only those with a keen eye would be able to tell it ever burned down.
7. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is bombed in WWI
This Gothic piece of history was built over a 100-year period in the 13th century—but the history of the site dates to the 5th century. The site of Clovis I’s baptism, at least 25 French kings were crowned in the church—claiming their rule was ordained by God. The building lasted until 1914 when it was shelled by German forces.
The Cathedral had been repurposed as a hospital during the Great War and did not survive the four bombings it endured. Reims’s proximity to the frontline made it a prime target for German forces. Most of the windows were blown out in the attacks, the iron roof was melted, and the statues inside were severely damaged in the blasts.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is rebuilt years later
The church remained in disrepair until the 1920s and many people felt the rubble should remain there as a reminder of the cost of war. Though the real meaning for the delay was likely the lack of funds to undertake the renovation.
The cathedral was eventually completed in 1938, following funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Much of the original stained-glass windows were able to survive World War I, due to glassmakers who took them apart piece by piece, to save them from being completely destroyed. Miraculously, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims survived World War II relatively unscathed. French officials signed the treaty to end World War II inside the cathedral.
8. The Centre Block of Parliament Hill is toppled by a fire
The fire that toppled the Centre Block of Canada’s federal building in 1916 is a mystery that baffles historians to this day. Some assert that German saboteurs committed arson to destabilize the Canadian government during World War I, though this has never been proven.
The fire spread quickly, aided by an outdated ventilation system and a room full of newspapers. Many people had to leap out of windows and down ladders into the bitter February cold. Sadly, seven people died in the blaze. The library was the only part of the structure to survive, along with all the books contained inside.
Parliament Hill is rebuilt by 1927
Today, if you visit Parliament Hill you’ll notice a difference between the type of stone in the library and the rest of the building. Credit for saving the library goes to Michael MacCormac, who was working as a clerk on the night of the fire and closed the iron doors that held off the flames. Staff was also able to save a priceless painting of Queen Victoria by cutting it out of the frame.
In September 1916, construction began on the new building, though it would take over a decade before it was fully realized. The new bell tower was built taller and named “Peace Tower.” It was dedicated to the Canadians who died during World War I.
9. Ferhat Pasha Mosque is destroyed by Serb forces
This 16th-century mosque was one of 12 in Banja Luka that were devastated during ethnic cleansing at the height of the Yugoslavian Civil War in 1993. Over the course of the Bosnian genocide, around 100,000 people were killed. Mostly were Bosnian Muslims and Croatian civilians.
Though no real fighting took place in Banja Luka during the war, the horror of genocide haunts the memory of its survivors.
This masterpiece of Ottoman architecture was blown up on the night of May 7, 1993. The blast is said to have been great enough to shatter the windows of all the surrounding buildings. The demolition and clearing of the rubble were a message to the city’s remaining Muslims — they were not welcome.
Ferhat Pasha Mosque is rebuilt in 2016
After two decades, the Ferhat Pasha mosque reopened. The process of rebuilding was not without its challenges, including a 2001 riot that injured more than 30 people. State of the art software was used to recreate the mosque’s design. The site is listed as a National Monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Miraculously, builders were able to recover many of the Mosque’s original stones, which were used in the reconstruction. Sixty-five percent of the stones used in the new Mosque came from the one destroyed in 1993. Today the Ferhat Pasha Mosque stands again as a monument to hope and faith in the face of atrocity.
10. Selby Abbey is nearly destroyed by flames
After surviving collapsed towers, and the erosion of time, Selby Abbey in Yorkshire, England was beautifully restored at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the newly renovated iteration was short-lived when the church was gutted by flames in 1906.
Flames were spotted coming from the organ chamber on Oct. 19. They quickly engulfed the interior of the church, toppled all eight bells, and destroyed the choir. Miraculously, the 14th century stained glass window survived the blaze. Despite speculation, no one can name the cause of the fire with absolute certainty, though it is known inadequate safety precautions contributed to its spread and damage.
Restoration of Selby Abbey
The fire threatened to destroy the monument forever, and the prospect of reconstruction seemed dire. However, Reverend Maurice Parkin refused to give up hope following the disaster and set about rebuilding the historic church. It cost an estimated £40,000, but the construction of the Nave and Choir was completed by 1909. “Throughout its long and turbulent history, the Abbey has undergone many changes and therefore never stands still.”
Selby Abbey remains today as both a monument to Restoration architecture and a parish church. The church still holds weekly services, baptisms, concerts, and weddings. Under the care of a new generation, worshippers and visitors alike are invited to enjoy the history and tranquility of the historic site.
11. Berlin Palace is demolished by the East German government
The original Berlin Palace was built in 1443 and stood for centuries as the home of kings, emperors, and electors. The German Democratic Republic destroyed the palace in 1950, in an effort to separate Germany from its past. In its place, the empty square was renamed Marx-Engels-Platz after communist philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The square was used for large parades and demonstrations.
In 1976, the Palace of the Republic was erected, where a variety of social and cultural events took place, and the Socialist Unity Party Congresses operated out of the Grand Hall. Asbestos was used in construction, despite the material being made illegal years prior to its construction.
Berlin Palace is under construction and should open shortly
After the reunification of Germany, the Palace of the Republic was largely ignored for many years. Discovery of the asbestos was the final nail in the coffin, and the city began putting plans in place to replace the new palace with the old palace (or at least a recreation of it).
Currently, construction of the Berlin Palace is nearly completed and should open by the end of the year. The charge to rebuild the palace is led by businessman Wilhelm von Boddien, who has been given the nickname “ghost of the palace,” for his steadfast advocacy of the construction project.
12. Gran Teatre del Liceu burned down in 1994
Considered a cultural landmark, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona first opened in 1847, hosting performances from the biggest and best names in Opera. For 170 years it functioned as a symbol of the city and a hub for artistry. In 1994, a calamitous event threatened to close the iconic theater forever.
On Jan. 31, 1994, the Gran Teatre del Liceu burned to ash. This was the second fire that happened in the theater’s history (the first occurred in 1861, and the theater was rebuilt a year later). Hardly any of the building stood after the second devastating fire. Many mourned the loss of a monument with such a rich history, but as it burned, the ministry of culture gathered to watch the flames and set up a meeting for the following day. At this meeting, they decided to rebuild the Gran Teatre del Lice.
A replica of the Gran Teatre del Liceu opens in 1999
As a result of a massive undertaking in planning and construction, the historic theater was able to reopen just five years after it was reduced to ashes. The first season began with “Turandot” the opera that had been scheduled to run next in 1994.
The opera may look the same as it did in 1994, but the theater was rebuilt from scratch. The new venue boasts upgraded audio-visual systems and elevators with state-of-the-art design and technology. The replica cost an estimated $95 million. The opera house strives to host concerts that cater to different tastes, so they feature a diverse selection of traditional and contemporary performances.
13. St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna is bombed during WWII
This Cathedral’s roots date back to the 12th century, gradually growing with additions over time. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart married Constanze Weber there in 1782. The Gothic landmark nearly survived World War II but was ultimately destroyed during an aerial attack in the final days of the fighting.
First, the church was set ablaze on April 11, 1945, by civilian looters. When the roof caught fire, it collapsed and buried the Choir. The next day, a large bomb struck the exposed floor of the church and leveled it. The only part of the edifice to survive was the bell clapper. When the war ended shortly after, the Austrian people immediately began the renovation.
The Historic Cathedral is restored immediately after the war
Austria completed the reconstruction of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in 1952. The endeavor was funded largely by Austrians who wanted to see their beloved historical landmarks rebuilt. The rest of the money came from a stamp series that featured pictures of the famed Cathedral in its former glory, and aid from foreign countries.
You can visit the Cathedral today and enjoy a stunning view of the exterior and interior. The columns feature likenesses of many religious figures, including Christ, whose beard is made of real horsehair. Remains of more than 1,000 people are buried beneath the Cathedral—though that area has been closed to the public since 1783.
14. City Palace, Potsdam is bombed in WWII, dismantled by the East German Regime
World War II damaged this historic building that had been built in the 17th century, but it was the East German government that ultimately demolished it. After surviving aerial attacks from the allied forces, the damaged City Palace stood until 1960.
Though most of the palace remained intact, the East German government had ideological objections toward the landmark. A site where Prussian kings had vacationed in previous centuries, the communist regime viewed the building as a symbol of opulence. The Socialist Unity Party demolished the building in 1960. The palace would not return for over half a century, over two decades after the reunification of Germany.
City Palace opens in 2013
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many began campaigning for the reconstruction of the sites that had been destroyed or had fallen into disrepair. Work on the palace began in the early 2000s but didn’t finish until 2013.
The palace now houses the parliament for the Federal state of Brandenburg. The building has a completely new interior and exterior. The only original part of the building that remains is the film museum, which used to be the Royal Stables. The new building was created to be as faithful to the old City Palace as possible — keeping with the traditional historic look of the city.
15. The Twin Towers are toppled in the 2001 attacks
Sept. 11, 2001, is a date all Americans know all too well. When the World Trade Center buildings were completed in 1973, they were the tallest buildings in the world. They survived multiple potential catastrophes before they came down—including a 1993 bombing that claimed six lives and injured more than 1,000 people.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, commercial airplanes were hijacked by militant extremists on a suicide mission. Two of the planes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, resulting in the loss of 2,763 lives and around 10,000 injuries. Close to 400 of the people killed at the World Trade Center were first responders.
The World Trade Center Monument is erected
Clean up and recovery efforts took over eight months and fires in lower Manhattan burned for 99 days. Over 1.8 million pounds of rubble were excavated from the site, and many responders and workers suffered eye and respiratory infections working in hazardous conditions.
In 2006, the World Trade Center Monument and Museum opened, occupying eight of the 16 acres where the original buildings stood. The centerpiece of the reconstructed plaza is the One World Trade Center, which was completed in 2013, and stands as the tallest building in North America.
The World Trade Center has resumed its purpose as a hub for business innovation and technology. Plans to expand construction are in the works.