The Notre Dame cathedral in Paris celebrated its 850th anniversary in 2013 with a refurbished organ and new bells.

The structure, literally meaning Our Lady, stands on the Ile de la Cite in the River Seine and has been a key destination for tourists and worshippers for centuries.

France Notre Dame Fire
Flames and smoke rise as the spire of Notre Dame cathedral collapses (Dominique Bichon/AP)

Here are some facts about the cathedral:

– Construction started in 1163 under the instruction of the Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, after he ordered the original cathedral to be demolished.

– The first stone was laid by Pope Alexander III in the presence of King Louis VII, with the majority of work taking place under Maurice de Sully and his successor Odon de Sully.

– The two towers were completed in the mid-point of the 13th century while the building was completed entirely in the 14th century.

– The central spire was only added as part of a 25-year restoration project in the 19th century.

France Notre Dame Fire
The central spire was added as part of a 25-year restoration project in the 19th century (Dominique Bichon/AP)

– The twin towers house the 13-ton Emmanuel bell – the oldest surviving bell in the cathedral, dating from the 15th century and recast in 1861. Other bells from the cathedral were melted down for cannons during the French Revolution.

– During the revolution, the cathedral was subject to desecration with statues of biblical kings beheaded.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral is seen across the River Seine before the fire (Mike Egerton/PA)

– The cathedral is 130 metres long and 48 metres wide, with the main structure 64 metres high.

– The square facing the main entrance of Notre Dame is the so-called Kilometre Zero – the point from which distances to Paris are measured.