NAHA, Japan: The historic Shuri Castle on Japan's Okinawa was reduced to a burnt shell on Thursday (Oct 31), after fire gutted a large part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site attraction.
As firefighters continue to tackle the blaze on Thursday, here are five things to know about this significant hilltop landmark:
SEAT OF POWER
The 14th-century Shuri Castle in Okinawa's capital city Naha was once the seat of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom.
With its flaming red facade, sloping tiled roof and Chinese-influenced decorative features, the castle's architecture is distinct from those found on mainland Japan.
In 1933, it was designated by Tokyo as a national treasure.
THE COMPLEX GROUNDS
The castle grounds consist of the main hall (Seiden), which is flanked by the north hall (Hokuden) and the south hall (Nanden), as well as the distinctive Shureimon Gate.
The Seiden, which sits in front of the expansive Una Plaza, was completely ravaged in Thursday's blaze.
Inside, sat a replica of the throne and crown used by Ryukyuan kings alongside historical artefacts and information displays for visitors.
The castle grounds is encircled by a wall and a park.
Thursday's fire is the latest in a series of blazes that have blighted the castle over the centuries.
Feudal tussles over succession to the Ryukyuan throne has seen the castle destroyed multiple times, including by fire.
The present-day castle and several other buildings on the complex grounds are reconstructions that were built in 1992.
The World Heritage Site status for the castle covers only the remnants of the ancient castle and not the rebuilt section.
WORLD WAR II BASE
Okinawa was right in the thick of action during World War II, as Japan battled the Allied forces on the Pacific front.
The Japanese army set up base on the castle grounds, where its hilltop fortress location provided it a semblance of strategic cover from enemy attacks.
However in the lead-up to the main push for the Battle of Okinawa, allied forces shelled the Shuri Castle for three consecutive days, razing it almost completely.
POPULAR TOURIST ATTRACTION
The complex is a popular tourist attraction, drawing both locals and foreign visitors. It had been scheduled to be included as a stop on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic torch relay route.
Among the highlights is a museum containing a host of interesting artefacts, from traditional outfits to Ryukyuan classical instruments.
Its hilltop vantage point also offers panoramic views of Naha.