* Firefighters took six hours to put out blaze
* Owner is brother of former emir of Qatar
* Mansion was designed by same architect as Versailles
PARIS, July 10 A fire caused serious damage to a
17th century palace in central Paris early on Wednesday, burning
away a huge portion of its rooftop just as a costly renovation
was near completion.
The Qatari-owned Hotel Lambert on the Ile Saint-Louis island
on the River Seine was one of the most well-preserved private
mansions in Paris. Its architect Louis Le Vau also designed the
Palace of Versailles.
"This is a setback for our historical heritage," Paris Mayor
Bernard Delanoe told journalists at the scene.
Firefighters rushed to the mansion at around 1 a.m.,
struggling for six hours to contain the blaze, which broke out
in a hard-to-access area below the rooftop for reasons as yet
unknown. No one was injured.
By the time the fire was put out, 650 square metres (7,000
square feet) of the roof had gone, part of a central staircase
and some facade masonry had collapsed and rooms had been damaged
by water and smoke, fire brigade spokesman Pascal Le Testu said.
Art historians were evaluating the damage to works of art,
which firefighters had tried to protect, Le Testu said.
They managed to prevent the blaze from spreading to
surrounding buildings, which were evacuated as a precaution.
The damage came as workers were putting final touches to a
renovation agreed between Paris authorities and the owner, a
brother of Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the former emir of Qatar.
Plans to renovate the mansion were only finalised after a
lengthy legal battle between al-Thani, who bought it in 2007 for
a price that media estimated was up to 80 million euros ($102
million), and groups defending Paris monuments.
Opponents to the original renovation scheme objected to
plans to build an underground garage, install an elevator and
new bathrooms as well as redesigning its garden.
The mansion was occupied for 150 years by the Polish
Czartoryski family, who sold it the French branch of the
Rothschild family in 1975.
($1 = 0.7821 euros)
(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; Writing by Nick Vinocur;
Editing by Catherine Bremer and Raissa Kasolowsky)