As Notre Dame has pledged what looks like an impossible rebuild, we look at five other timeless cathedrals, rebuilt from ruins

Parisians woke yesterday to a very different skyline and a reminder from their President that "Our history never stops."

The French premier Emmanuel Macron addressed the world on Monday, as Notre Dame Cathedral was still burning.

"All of you, French people and people from abroad who love Paris," he said in an address to the nation.

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"I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral."

Not knowing how much of the world heritage site could be saved, the president pledged an ambitious time frame of five years for the project.

The 12 century cathedral has stood at the heart of Paris since time immemorial. It is visited by more than 13 million tourists each year. To think of a skyline without it for any longer than five years is hard to contemplate.

But with fresh pictures of the damage emerging, the task seems daunting.

On a tour of Europe, there's nothing more reassuring than the giant stone edifice of a great cathedral.

They look like mountains.

Standing in Paris, Cologne or London – they appear as you imagine they did for the last hundred generations of tourists:

Big, timeless and "awesome" in the biblical sense.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame was completed 500 years before Rangitoto Island appeared in Auckland harbour.

The idea that they might at any point fall or burn to the ground, seems impossible. Until they do.

To see the grand dame of Paris so dilapidated is a shock. When the spire fell from the roof, people were declaring the "end of days".

But many of the great cathedrals you'll visit hide the fact that - like Notre Dame – they've had their fair share of fires, bombings and disaster. At some point they probably looked worse.

Rebuilt from the rubble

Rouen Cathedral, France

The destruction from the fire brings back memories of the worst ravages of the Second World War.

Pefect Impression: Monet's beloved Notre-Dame de Rouen. Photo / Getty Images
Pefect Impression: Monet's beloved Notre-Dame de Rouen. Photo / Getty Images

100 km down stream, another famous 'Notre Dame', the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen was badly damaged in the war. Made world famous by Claude Monet's paintings, the recognisable building was hit by seven RAF bombs in April 1944. Another raid burned the North tower, melting the bells.

Rouen in ruins: Cathedral de Notre Dame, Rouen. Photo / Supplied
Rouen in ruins: Cathedral de Notre Dame, Rouen. Photo / Supplied

However, visiting today, you'd find it hard to believe.
The medieval landmark has been restored to more than an impression of its former self.

The Ruins of Rouen: Cathedral de Notre Dame. Photo / Supplied
The Ruins of Rouen: Cathedral de Notre Dame. Photo / Supplied

Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Although Cologne cathedral has been on the Rhine as long as Paris's Notre Dame, the twin spires were a late addition to the Medieval cathedral.

The interior of Cologne Cathedral, 2019 vs 1945. Photo / Getty Images
The interior of Cologne Cathedral, 2019 vs 1945. Photo / Getty Images

The iconic outline was completed in 1880, making it the tallest building in the world. However, the horned building was finished just in time for two world wars. It became an easy landmark for bombing raids and the West gate of the structure saw a full scale tank battle in 1945.

The ruins of Cologne, today and 1945, right. Photo / Getty Images
The ruins of Cologne, today and 1945, right. Photo / Getty Images

Although the spires remained in tact, much of the nave and exterior suffered bomb damage. The arches of the nearby Iron Hohenzollern bridge were also staved in.
Crossing the Rhine today, you'd not know it.

Dresden Frauenkirke, Germany
The East German city was famously gutted by bombing raids.

Rebuilding: In the ruins of Dreseden. Photo / William Vandivert, Getty Images
Rebuilding: In the ruins of Dreseden. Photo / William Vandivert, Getty Images

The levelling of the baroque German town was seen as one of the most controversial and tragic of the war. Before and after photos were circulated as propaganda and reminder of the tragedy well into the Cold War.

Dresden:Before and after. Photo / Getty Images
Dresden:Before and after. Photo / Getty Images

Yet from the banks of the Elbe, you could almost imagine you were back in 1900s Saxony.

Dresden restored: The Frauenkirche, left, and opera house, right, from the the banks of the Elebe. Photo / Getty Images
Dresden restored: The Frauenkirche, left, and opera house, right, from the the banks of the Elebe. Photo / Getty Images

From the rubble buildings such as the Frauenkirche, the Semperoper opera house and Zwinger Palace were restored to full baroque glory.

Palace of Westminster, United Kingdom
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are a long way removed from saintly Notre Dame, however they have had their fair share of catastrophe.

London 1941: The interior of the Houses of Parliament. Photo / Hulton Archive, Getty Images
London 1941: The interior of the Houses of Parliament. Photo / Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The current landmark designed by Augustus Pugin stand in the place where the first palace burned down in 1834. However, Pugin's gothic building on the Thames was subsequently bombed in the London Blitz and again in 1974 by the IRA.

Westminster on fire in 1974. Photo / Chris Ware, Getty Images
Westminster on fire in 1974. Photo / Chris Ware, Getty Images

Today the building could be in better condition - at the beginning of a $6.8 billion restoration project - but surprisingly it's still standing.

Gothic revival: Palace of Wesminister. Photo / Getty Images
Gothic revival: Palace of Wesminister. Photo / Getty Images

Coventry Cathedral, United Kingdom

"We will build the cathedral of Notre Dame even more beautiful than it was," was the pledge of Macron.

A new beginning: Ruins of Coventry Cathedral. Photo / George W. Hales, Getty Images
A new beginning: Ruins of Coventry Cathedral. Photo / George W. Hales, Getty Images

Weather in five years the structure will be returned to former glory, or taken in a brave new direction, it's yet to see.

However, another cathedral that used disaster as a chance to start again from scratch is in Coventry.

'Even more beautiful than it was': Coventry Cathedral. Photo / Getty Images
'Even more beautiful than it was': Coventry Cathedral. Photo / Getty Images

The industrial city was levelelled along with its Cathedral in the Second World War. But instead of restoring the previous design, the English city built a modern, measured monument to peace and the end of war.

Using the open air and remaining sections of wall the structure is a remarkable repurposing of the ruins.