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The discovery of fire over 790,000 years ago had really important consequences for humanity’s evolution. However, it also entailed great risk and, to control it, enormous difficulties. Over the years, uncontrolled blazes have consumed a host of significant places, whole cities and thousands of human lives, leaving behind a trail of destruction and horror.
The burning of the Library of Alexandria in the year 40 BC turned out to be a disaster with incalculable consequences for science and knowledge. The fire of Rome in the year 64 marked the start of the persecution of Christians, having been blamed for the fire. Of the city’s 14 districts, only three survived unscathed.
More recently, we have witnessed fires devour the Fenice in Venice, the Liceo in Barcelona and the National Museum of Brazil, while the images of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris engulfed in flames are still fresh in our memory.
The great fire of London in 1666 destroyed more than 13,000 houses and some emblematic buildings such as St. Paul’s Cathedral. The fire can be traced to the oven of a bakery and the strong winds blowing through the city did the rest. No less important were the medieval layout of the really narrow streets and the wooden houses built so close to one another.
Blazes were common in those days, as open fireplaces were used daily for lighting, cooking and heating purposes. Perhaps for this reason, the mayor of London was unable to gauge the magnitude of the fire and this helped it to spread rapidly. The city burned for three days and three nights until the firebreaks — produced by the controlled demolition of buildings — proved effective enough and the wind ceased.
The destruction of the city’s slums had at least one positive consequence: it put an end to the last great epidemic of bubonic plague which had reaped more than twenty thousand victims in the city since 1665. After the conflagration, the city was rebuilt respecting in part its medieval layout, but using less flammable materials.
Various theories about a conspiracy to destroy London were in circulation at that time; the French watchmaker Robert Hubert was even executed as the alleged papal agent responsible for the fire. Although he finally confessed to the crime, his innocence would later be demonstrated. The Great Fire would also lead to the creation of modern fire insurance. Nicholas Barbon (doctor, economist, constructor) pioneered specialist household and building fire insurance when he founded The Fire Office. He is also credited with the organization of groups of people to fight fires (possible predecessors of the current fire services) and the use of the first insurance plaques to identify those buildings covered by fire insurance.
To remember this tragedy and commemorate the reconstruction of the city, Londoners have a monolith known as The Monument, whose full name is The Monument to the Great Fire of London. Designed by Christopher Wren, this Doric column stands 61 meters (200 feet) tall. It is also situated exactly 61 meters from where the great fire started, namely the oven in Thomas Farriner’s bakery in Pudding Lane.
Today, The Monument offers tourists one of the best panoramic views of the city and is therefore a popular attraction for travelers. In the same way, the small statue known as The Golden Boy of Pye Corner marks the place where the fire was finally extinguished.
Our Insurance Museum boasts several documents related to the Great Fire of London. For example, a policy from the Phoenix Assurance Company of London, embossed with a depiction of the Great Fire of London in 1666. In the background behind the goddess Minerva, you can see smoke, flames, firefighters and people fleeing. A column can be seen in line with the goddess’s shield. This is The Monument. Insurance policies used to be adorned with motifs alluding to the values defended by the company, or to important historical moments for the insurance world.
Practical information on the Insurance Museum
Located in Madrid, at Calle Bárbara de Braganza 14, it has 600 pieces on display and a total of 1,300 preserved in the institution’s collection.
In addition, all of them can be viewed on a virtual tour of the museum at www.museovirtualdelseguro.com.
Free guided tours for groups may be reserved in advance by completing the form on our website.