Shuri Castle, the 500-year old UNESCO Heritage Site and one of Okinawa’s most beloved historical sites, went ablaze on Thursday, just before 2:40 a.m. local time.
The Japan castle is Okinawa’s largest wooden structure, and while the cause of the fire is still unclear, officials say that the fire most likely started within the building. Flames swept quickly throughout the site, including its large main hall, the castle's most recognizable building.
Local residents were temporarily evacuated as the fire was extinguished by early afternoon.
“All the main buildings have burned down, and nothing remains,” said Daisuke Furugen, an official with the Naha Fire Department told The Japan Times, which also mentioned that the building had no sprinkler system.
Even though the flames are extinguished, they left behind a skeleton of what was the brightly painted Shuri Castle. According to The Mainichi, the Japanese government has vowed to rebuild the ancient structure, paying homage and respect to what the site represents for Okinawa.
"We recognize it's an extremely important symbol of Okinawa," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told the newspaper. "I express my sympathy to residents of Okinawa Prefecture from the bottom my heart. The incident is heartbreaking."
Shuri Castle dates back to Okinawa’s Ryukyu Kingdom, where it served as the seat of the Ryukyu dynasty for over 400 years. Located atop a hill overlooking Naha, the prefecture’s capital, Shuri Castle remained a regal symbol of Okinawa’s recovery from World War II and the Battle of Okinawa.