It’s impossible to think of Paris without thinking of the Eiffel Tower… but what does the Eiffel Tower make you think of? If your mind immediately jumps to thoughts of crowds of tourists, metal key chains, and stock French clichés, you’re not alone. But even though it’s full of stereotypes, be sure to visit this indelible element of Paris’s landscape… and hopefully see it in a different light!
The Eiffel Tower was built for the World’s Fair in 1889, which marked the 50th anniversary of the French Revolution. Construction on the 300-meter tall tower was completed in only two years! When you consider that a gothic cathedral that measured only 160 meters would have required at least 100 years to be built, all we can say is, “Bravo, Gustave Eiffel!”
Until 1929, it was the tallest tower in the world; New York’s Chrysler building beat it by only seven meters. Today, there are many taller buildings, but climbing the Eiffel Tower is still an impressive experience. As you climb, think about the fact that there was once a good chance that you would never have even seen it! It was originally meant to be destroyed after 20 years, and it wasn’t terribly highly regarded by its contemporaries: it was doted with such unflattering nicknames as “the skeleton,” the “tragic streetlamp” or even “the column of bolted sheet metal.” Bear in mind the fact that the French term for sheet metal – tôle – is also a slang word for prison, and you’ll know exactly how much early 20th century Parisians liked the tower!
Why should you visit the Eiffel Tower and wade through hoards of tourists, nearly freeze at the top in winter, and put up with gusts of wind as you stand atop its higher levels? Firstly, because you can climb to the second floor using the stairs, which not only grants you the pride of having climbed it, a sensation that one can only imagine is similar to that of Everest climbers, but also lets you work off some of the cheese, wine and pastries you’ve been eating since your arrival in Paris!
Secondly, the view from the top is truly incredible. You can take in all of the great Parisian monuments from a unique perspective.
Thirdly, from nightfall until 2am (1am in winter), the tower sparkles with hundreds of tiny lights for ten minutes every hour. You must admit… it’s quite romantic!
Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), the engineer responsible for the design and construction of the Eiffel Tower came to prominence long before he had drawn up the first drafts of what was to become one of the most recognizable monuments in the world. This prodigious engineer began his career designing bridges for the newly expanding railway companies of France. His first commission was to design a bridge that spanned the Garonne river at Bordeaux, for the Paris-Bordeaux railway line.
He established his own workshop on the outskirts of Paris in 1866. It was during this period he received commissions to build bridges, railway termini, and even a cathedral, in exotic locations found all over the world. In 1881, Eiffel was commissioned by architect Auguste Bartholdi to design the interior iron skeleton for the Statue of Liberty. Eiffel's four-legged pylon was designed to hold in place the copper sheeting that Bartholdi had designed. Early photographs from the period show the Statue of Liberty standing over Parisian rooftops in the 17th arrondissement where it was assembled before its journey across the atlantic to its home in New York.
When it came to designing the Eiffel Tower, Eiffel incorporated a science laboratory and office into the last floor, so that he could conduct vital experiments. It is significant that he did so, because after his retirement as an engineer, Eiffel undertook impressive independent research on aerodynamics and meteorology, making important contributions to these fields of study. Although the tower was scheduled to be dismantled after 20 years, Eiffel dissuaded authorities from carrying out the projected works, so that his could continue his research unhindered.
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