Stories of Tragedy

Britannica Year in Review. A retrospective of the year's biggest stories!

The year 2019, like most years, had no shortage of tragedies. From fires in natural resources and cultural landmarks to the loss of life through senseless acts of terrorism, too many times the world watched, often in real time, as these terrible events took place. Take a look at a sample of some of the most profound events that took place this past year.

The Fire at Notre-Dame de Paris

On April 15, 2019, the world watched in horror as one of the most iconic religious structures of the western world went up in flames. Throughout the event, dramatic photos and videos of the inferno flooded social media. By the time the fire was extinguished, the roof and the 19th-century spire had been destroyed. Many other elements, such as the stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings, were damaged. Work to restore the cathedral continues, and donations have poured in from around the world. Only time can tell what the future will hold for this iconic landmark, but one thing is for sure: experts from around the globe are working hard to ensure that Notre-Dame will endure. Below, you can learn more about some of the key elements of Notre-Dame.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Explore the history, architectural style, and significance of the cathedral in the official Britannica article.

Crown of Thorns

The crown said to have been worn by Jesus Christ during his Crucifixion survived the fire.

Rose window

The rose windows at Notre-Dame are world-famous, but the feature is a popular one throughout many Gothic churches and cathedrals. Read more about it here.

Gothic architecture

Want to learn more about the architectural style of Notre-Dame? Read more and view other classic examples in this article.

Flying buttress

The flying buttress is another element in Gothic architecture that gives Notre-Dame its distinct appearance.

Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc

This French Gothic Revival architect restored Notre-Dame in the 19th century and added the spire that was destroyed in the fire on April 15, 2019.

Mass Shootings in the U.S. and Abroad

In a pattern that has sadly become all too common, several of our articles spiked in readership during mass shootings in the United States and, in the case of this year, a shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. Below are some of the articles Britannicans used during the racially motivated attacks in El Paso, Texas, and Christchurch to help put these horrific events in context.


During the August 3, 2019, shooting at an El Paso Walmart, the assailant used a WASR-10, a version of the AK-47.

Assault rifle

What exactly is an assault rifle? Often after mass shootings, debates rage about not only the necessity of civilian access to these weapons but also what constitutes an assault rifle.

New Zealand

The attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, occurred on March 15, 2019. These attacks shocked the citizens of the relatively peaceful country of New Zealand and people around the world. Read more about the island nation here.

Easter Terrorist Attacks in Sri Lanka

On April 21, 2019, eight bombs exploded at several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing more than 250 people and injuring close to 500. Within a few days, authorities identified a little-known Sri Lankan Islamist militant group as the orchestrator of the attacks. Eventually, ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks, and its role is still under investigation.

Sri Lanka

Read more about the country of Sri Lanka and its history leading up to these terrorist attacks.

Tamil Tigers

The Tamil Tigers were a separatist group in Sri Lanka that fought for an independent Tamil state. While the Tamil Tigers were not involved in the Easter attacks of 2019, Britannica readers viewed this article to learn more about Sri Lanka’s history of terrorism and attacks on civilians.

Other Topics Worth Exploring

Hurricane Dorian and The Bahamas

In late August 2019, Hurricane Dorian formed over the Atlantic Ocean. It left a path of destruction through the Caribbean and on September 1 made landfall on The Bahamas. The storm was called “one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history” by Prime Minister Hubert Minnis. Learn more about The Bahamas here.

The Death of Paralympian Marieke Vervoort Through Euthanasia

On October 22, 2019, Paralympian Marieke Vervoort died through euthanasia. The athlete, who suffered a debilitating, degenerative spinal condition, signed euthanasia papers in 2008 in her native country of Belgium, where the practice is legal. Read more about the practice of euthanasia here.

The Crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border, Detention Centers, and Concentration Camps

On June 18, 2019, U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to the detention centers on the U.S.-Mexico border as “concentration camps.” Throughout much of this year, debate has raged on the conditions that migrants are subjected to in U.S. detention centers, the necessity of these camps, and President Donald Trump’s handling of immigration policy in the United States overall. The picture painted by Ocasio-Cortez’s words sparked international outrage over the crisis, both at the conditions at the camps and at Ocasio-Cortez for her use of the phrase. Many people, from Holocaust survivors to academics to political commentators, weighed in, both to approve and to condemn the congresswoman’s choice of comparison. Many people asked: “What exactly constitutes a concentration camp?” and several Britannicans came to the concentration camp article for answers.

The 2019 Amazon Rainforest Fires

At the beginning of 2019, the Amazon Rainforest began to burn. While human-caused fires are common in the Amazon, this particular year saw fires that were larger and burned longer than average. The fires also sparked international debate and concern about the forest’s role in mitigating climate change. Britannica explored these concerns in a Demystified entry titled “What Happens to Earth if the Amazon Rainforest Is Completely Burned?”

More to Explore