A fire has destroyed the main structures of Shuri Castle, a Unesco World Heritage site on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa.
Firefighters have been battling the flames since early on Thursday. No injuries have been reported so far.
The wooden castle, built 500 years ago in the Ryukyu Dynasty, was designated Japan’s national treasure in 1933.
It was almost completely destroyed in a battle during World War Two. The current structure is a reconstruction.
The main building, as well as the north and south structures of the castle have burned to the ground, local media said.
“The cause of the fire has not been determined yet but a security company alarm went off at around 2:30 in the morning,” Ryo Kochi, a spokesman with the Okinawa prefectural police told news agency AFP.
Shuri Castle sits on top of a hill overlooking the city of Naha, Okinawa’s capital, and is surrounded by curved stone walls.
It served as a campus for Okinawa’s largest public university until the 1970s, and has been a popular tourist attraction since.
Horror twice in a lifetime
The Ryukyu dynasty was a kingdom that thrived on maritime trade, connecting countries in the region. Shuri Castle, though it had architectural influences from China and Japan, was at the centre of this unique Ryukyu culture.
But in 1879, the king was banished from the castle and the dynasty was annexed to become Okinawa prefecture.
The castle was completely destroyed in WW2 by American forces in 1945. Many documents and artefacts, which could have helped in the reconstruction, were also lost.
The current castle was rebuilt and opened to the public in 1992.
It was registered as a World Heritage site in 2000 and was the site for the Okinawa Summit in the same year, appearing in commemorative 2000-yen notes.
From Ryukyu to Japan, war to peace – Shuri Castle has been there through everything, and was a symbol of identity for the Okinawa people.
Those who saw the end of WW2 in Okinawa have seen the Castle burn twice in their lifetime. Their sorrow is beyond imagination.
The mayor of Naha said she was worried by reports that the fire could “threaten or affect” residents in surrounding areas.
Mayor Mikiko Shiroma, told national broadcaster NHK, the city would “do everything in our power” to deal with the fire and its aftermath.
According to Okinawa’s tourism site, the castle burned down three times during the Ryukyu Dynasty and was burnt down again in World War Two during the Battle of Okinawa.
It is currently the largest wooden building in Okinawa.
The castle had been scheduled as a stop on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic torch relay route.