Birthplace of World War I spy and exotic dancer Mata Hari gutted by fire

A statue of Mata Hari stands in front of burning buildings in the centre of Leeuwarden in Northern Netherlands on Sunday, Oct 20, 2013. A fire in the Netherlands has gutted the birthplace of exotic dancer and World War I spy Mata Hari, Dutch med
A statue of Mata Hari stands in front of burning buildings in the centre of Leeuwarden in Northern Netherlands on Sunday, Oct 20, 2013. A fire in the Netherlands has gutted the birthplace of exotic dancer and World War I spy Mata Hari, Dutch media reported on Sunday. -- PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - A fire in the Netherlands has gutted the birthplace of exotic dancer and World War I spy Mata Hari, Dutch media reported on Sunday.

One man died in the blaze that broke out on Saturday evening in the Frisian city of Leeuwarden, about 140km north of Amsterdam. The fire destroyed several buildings, including the one where Mata Hari was born as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle on Aug 7, 1876, the daughter of a local shopkeeper, NOS public television said.

Zelle travelled to Paris in 1903, where she became famous across Europe for her exotic eastern dances and liaisons with various men while moving in high society. Her stage name became synonymous with the archetypical femme fatale.

Mata Hari was arrested and executed by firing squad in October 1917, aged 41, after being accused of being a German spy during the First World War. Several movies were made about her life, and her character was played by various star actresses, including Greta Garbo, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Sylvia Kristel, who was also Dutch.

Kristel, who died aged 60 last year, became famous in her own right for her role in the 1974 French movie Emmanuelle, one of the first-ever soft focus erotic movies to be shown in mainstream cinema.

In all, eleven homes and five shops were consumed by the fire, including the hair salon that now occupies the place of Mata Hari's birth, before they were brought under control early on Sunday morning, NOS public television said. It showed firefighters battling the flames and a huge plume of smoke billowing across the city.