CNN  — 

Police in Rio de Janeiro clashed with hundreds of protesters Monday amid growing outrage over the cause of a fire that destroyed Brazil’s oldest and most important historical museum.

The 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil was left gutted after a devastating blaze tore through the beloved institution late Sunday night. Though the extent of the damage remains unknown, aerial images show widespread damage throughout the building, which was home to an estimated 20 million artifacts spanning 11,000 years.

Protesters took to the street following reports linking the fire with government spending cuts and inadequate maintenance of key infrastructure, including the building’s sprinkler system.

Outside the National Museum, several people tried to storm the gates and enter the grounds of the still smoldering building. Television and still images showed police in riot gear using pepper spray to contain the crowd.

Hundreds of people take part in a protest against the Brazilian government Monday after the blaze.

Officials from Rio’s Civil Defense department said in a statement Monday that access to the building had been blocked for security reasons. “Our technicians conducted an inspection inside the building Monday morning and verified that the building is still at high risk of collapsing.”

The protestors, most of whom were students from Rio’s Federal University (UFRJ), were later allowed temporary access to the courtyard outside the museum in order to give the building a symbolic “hug.”

The National Museum is a part of the UFRJ and dependent of public funding. Many of the protestors gathered claimed funding intended for restoration and renovation projects had been diverted by the government.

Flames engulf the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

“This fire was caused due to several years of neglect from the federal government,” Caio, an anthropology student who studied at the museum, told AFP. “The anthropology department went through absurd budget cuts from the federal government during the past two years. In my class alone, it was around 70%.”

During the blaze, firefighters arrived at the scene only to find two hydrants did not have enough pressure to work properly, according to Roberto Robadey, a spokesman for Rio de Janeiro fire department. Fire crews had to draw water from a nearby pond instead, said Robadey.

The building was equipped with a sprinkler system, but it was inadequate, according to Brazilian Minister of Culture Serguio Sá Leitao.