Any mention of France, and Paris in particular, will surely conjure up an image of the most iconic of icons, a symbol of romance and geometrical elegance. We are of course talking about the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which celebrates its 130th anniversary on March 31st, 2019. With nearly 7 million visitors each year and 250 million in total since its inauguration in 1889, the Eiffel Tower is one of the world’s most popular attractions. But not many people know the history behind it, or how this iron structure has managed to stay standing for so long. Here are some interesting facts about the Eiffel Tower to enhance your visit!
A controversial structure of revolutionary proportions
The Eiffel Tower was envisioned as the centerpiece for the Exposition Universelle, or World’s Fair, held in Paris in 1889 to mark the centenary of the French Revolution.
Antique postcard of the Eiffel Tower
Not everyone warmed to the notion of a 300-meter metal structure which would dominate Paris’s traditional skyline, and opinions about the Eiffel Tower remain divided even today. At the time, an impassioned petition signed by a number of prominent French artists was published in Le Temps, a prestigious daily newspaper in Paris:
We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection … of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … Imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.
The construction was, however, approved and the Eiffel Tower becane the tallest structure in the world, standing at 300 meters, until the 319-meter Chrysler Building in New York City was completed in 1930. Today, it doesn’t even figure in the world’s 100 tallest structures.
The construction of the Eiffel Tower
Gustave Eiffel and his unsung collaborators
The Eiffel Tower was named after engineer Gustave Eiffel, but its initial conception and design were actually the ideas of three other notable French engineers and architects. Maurice Koechlin, a structural engineer, came up with the structural concept and form, producing the first drawing of the Eiffel Tower with the collaboration of civil engineer and architect Émile Nouguier. Stephen Sauvestre was the head of the architectural division of the Eiffel Company, and added the grand decorative arches to the base of the tower, the glass pavilion on the first level and the cupola at the top. Gustave Eiffel bought the rights to the patent on the design which Koechlin, Nougier, and Sauvestre had taken out and the design was exhibited at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1884 under the company name.
The Tower was only intended to stand for 20 years and was almost pulled down in 1909. Luckily it had become the perfect place to erect radio and communications transmitters, and it was this use which ultimately saved the tower.
The Eiffel Tower was originally painted a deep red color, which was thought to be more protective against rust. It has since been repainted a total of 19 times, approximately every seven years, and its color has changed from red-brown to yellow ochre to chestnut brown and is today a bronze ‘Eiffel Tower Brown’. It takes 60 tons of paint and three years to repaint the whole of the tower by hand. 25 painters will painstakingly strip, clean, apply rust-proofing and several coats of paint to the entire 300-meter structure, a process which is vital for the conservation of the tower, and the reason it is still standing strong today. The next painting schedule is due to begin in October 2018, and we are waiting to find out if the color will remain the same or will possibly return to its original red color to mark the 130th anniversary.
Happy 130th birthday, Eiffel Tower!
Pro tips for visiting the Eiffel Tower
Book your tickets in advance! You can show up on the day and walk up if you have the stamina, but remember, that’s 600 steps! There are two elevators – one that serves the first and second levels of the tower, and one which goes from the second to the main viewing deck on the third level. Tickets for the third level elevator can sell out months in advance, but don’t worry. There is a greater availability of tickets to the second level, so book those tickets online, and then purchase your ticket to the third level at the ticket booth on the second level on the day. Easy!
You will need to choose a timeslot when you book online. Visit first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, or at the end of the day when there are fewer people.
If you want to dine at one of the Eiffel Tower restaurants, you should also make reservations via the Eiffel Tower website, otherwise you could be in for a long wait.
Bring a jacket, even on a warm day! It can be cold and very windy at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and the chances are that you will need to wait in line outside for the elevator to the third level. Come prepared!
On your way back down (you don’t need tickets for the down elevators), stop off at the first level and check out the solid glass floor finished in 2014 – feel like you’re walking on air as you get down at the crowds over 50 meters below!
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