There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe

Some of Europe’s most iconic sights were destroyed through war and environmental disasters only to be reconstructed years later. The Notre Dame Cathedral will be no different.
Donovan Alexander

The fire that engulfed the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France grabbed the world’s attention this past week. Located on the Île de la Cité, is in Paris' 4th arrondissement, the building had a special place in the hearts of both tourists and Parisians. Billowing smoke and flames engulfed the cathedral’s main spire, with two-thirds of the roofing burned.

Likely caused by some restoration work, a 6.8 million dollar project, historic relics and parts of the cathedral, like the 18th-century organ with 8,000 pipes, and the relic knows as the Crown of Thorns, which many believe was worn by Jesus Christ, were fortunately spared.


Within hours, an outpouring of support for Notre Dame triggered pledges from some of the world’s billionaires, raising almost a billion dollars for the iconic landmark.

The take away from all of this? There is hope. Notre Dame is not the first historic building to almost being destroyed, to later be rebuilt. In fact, some of Europe’s most iconic heritage buildings were in fact badly damaged from war or environmental damage only to have themselves almost completely restored to their former glory.   

In honor of the great Notre Dame, today we are going to explore some of the best comeback stories of Europe’s most iconic buildings with the aim of showing how a little engineering, design, and restoration can go a long way after a disaster.

St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

First on our list is the “magnificent Gothic edifice” dubbed as the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The St. Stephen's Cathedral is considered one of the most culturally significant landmarks in Austria. The church itself is extremely old with its original commencement date dating back all the way to 1137.

Like many of the buildings on our list, the cathedral was slowly added on upon over the centuries, holding true to its amalgamation of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. A true historic treasure the church fell victim to aerial bombing of the Second World War, almost obliterating all of the organs, choir stalls, and artwork featured in the cathedral.

Yet, after the war, there was an immediate push to have the cathedral brought back to its former glory, with consistent renovations helping shape the building into the beautiful historic monument that it is today.

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Church of St. Nicholas, Karlovac

There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe
Source: Bearcro/Wikimedia Commons

Another victim of the perils of war, the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas or Karlovac Cathedral has made a huge comeback over the decades. Constructed after the local Serbian community raised money for the construction of it, the now Croatian building was completed in 1787. The church itself represents the rich history of the Serbian people, featuring artworks from Arsenije Teodorović.

There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The church was badly damaged in WWII and was devastated in 1991 during the War in Croatia, with mines being detonated inside the church repeatedly. The church was obliterated, yet by some miracle in 2007 and 2012, the Serbian community made a push to completely renovate the building. You can now visit the church.

Palace of Versailles

There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe
Source: Palace of Versailles

The opulence of Versailles is unmatched, holding a special place in the minds and hearts of the French and tourists. In fact, the Palace of Versailles has even become a pop culture staple for the representation of royalty and old wealth.

The former French royal residence and center of government, Versailles is now a national landmark. Though it has been in the hands of a few royal leaders, it was Louis XIV who turned it into the extravagant complex that it is today.  

The Palace of Versailles had its fair share of bad days with a 210km/hr windstorm decimating several roofs across the landmark, destroying windows, and uprooting more than 10,000 trees.

Not to mention the Golden Gate of Versailles was destroyed completely during the French Revolution. Over the past 20 years over 50,000 trees have been planted in the  Versailles’s garden, while the gate was restored in 2008.

Reims Cathedral/Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims

There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe
Source: Johan Bakker/Wikimedia Commons

Located in Reims France, the High Gothic style cathedral has a history that dates back all the way to 496 and the Roman Empire. Now the High Gothic style Cathedral attracts one million visitors annually. The beautiful church played a crucial role in the Northern French Region during the First World War, being commissioned as a hospital.

There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe
Source: Walking Travels

When the Imperial German Army began shelling the city in 1914, the cathedral was severely damage blowing out many windows, and damaging several statues and elements of the upper facade. Much of the cathedral was eventually destroyed by war, due in part to the consistent bombings.

Nevertheless, under the guise of the Rockefellers, the cathedral was eventually rebuilt by 1938, with consistent renovations happening every couple years.

City Palace, Potsdam

Since the beginning of 1662, the Potsdam City Palace was the official vacation residence of the Prussian Kings, making it one of the region's oldest castles in the region. Yet, due to the building’s turbulent history, very little of the building's original castle still exists.

The building was bombarded in World War II only to be dismantled by the Eastern German communist regime. City Palace was not officially reconstructed until the early 2000s with it being completed in 2013. Now serving as the house for the parliament of the federal state of Brandenburg, the building has a completely new interior and exterior.

Berlin, Cathedral

Remodeled by Prussia’s leading architect  Karl Friedrich Schinke in the 19th century, the Berlin Palace has a history that dates all the way back to the 15th century. The cathedral itself was a symbol for the royal leaders that would rule over the centuries, only to have the original church demolished in 1893.

By 1905, the church that you see today was built using some of the previous architectural ideas from the previous building. However, the cathedral was severely damaged during WWII. It was not until 1975 that work for restoring the church began with a full restoration completed in 1993.  

Dresden Frauenkirche

There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe
Source: German Federal Archives/ Wikimedia Commons 

A major symbol for the rebirth of Dresden, the Dresden Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady is probably one of the most historically significant buildings in recent history. During WWII, air raids decimated Dresden including Frauenkirche. The incendiary bombs nearly wiped Dresden from the map.  

The eventual reconstruction of Frauenkirche became a symbol of hope and reconciliation, embodying the reconciliation of post-war Europe. The reconstruction was finally completed in 2005.

Berlin Palace

There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe
Source: A.Savin/Wikimedia Commons

The Royal Palace of Berlin was founded in 1443 as the residence of the Hohenzollern-Dynasty. A symbol of Germany’s long rich history, the palace served as the main residence of the Electors of Brandenburg, the Kings of Prussia and the German Emperors.

However, the building was completely demolished by the Eastern German government by 1950.  The building is currently being rebuilt with its final completion date expected this year.

Ferhat Pasha Mosque

There’s Still Hope: 9 Destroyed and Rebuilt Heritage Buildings in Europe
Source: Samirzahirovic/Wikimedia Commons

The Ferhat Pasha Mosque also known as the Ferhadija Mosque is a central building in the center of Banja Luka. The 16th Century mosque was destroyed by Serb forces during the war of the 1990s and was seen as a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture. Completed in 2016 the building took 14 years to reconstruct.

If all these sites can be remodeled and reconstructed, Notre Dame Cathedral has hope.

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