There are few joys in life that never fade. But one of these, at least for us, is arriving back in Paris after being away and waiting with bated breath on that first evening as the minute hand approaches the hour…and then suddenly the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower burst into life in the darkening sky and keep sparkling for a full five minutes. It never fails to make the heart beat a little faster and remind one just how many wonderful things there are in the world and particularly in Paris!
If you’ve been there, you will know what we’re talking about. If you haven’t, then you have a great pleasure to look forward to.
There are many interesting but little known facts about the Eiffel Tower (La Dame de Fer or The Iron Lady as she has been nicknamed). We thought we would share some of them, along with many of our photos of the Paris icon, with you here. All the photos and videos in this blog post, apart from the obviously historical ones, are ours.
130 YEARS OLD THIS YEAR
The Eiffel Tower is 130 years old this year, 2019. Construction began in 1887. The tower was completed on 31 March 1889 and inaugurated as the entrance to and centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle, held in Paris to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.
Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, two senior engineers working for Gustave Eiffel’s company, the Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel, have been credited with the original plan for the structure.
Today it seems everybody the world over knows and loves the Eiffel Tower. However, initial plans and construction met with some very serious and bitter engineering and aesthetic opposition.
Grave skepticism greeted the idea of a 300 meter tower which was to become the tallest structure in the world, looming over the rooftops of Paris like a giant steel pylon. Was it possible at all? And wouldn’t it ruin the appearance of the beautiful city? Even Gustave Eiffel himself was unenthusiastic about the first design. But he approved further study. Then the company’s senior architect, Stephen Sauvestre, added to the design, conceiving decorative arches at the base and a glass pavilion on the first level.
Eiffel supported the new version and went on to gain official approval for it. He signed the contract in his own name in January 1887. This included promised government support of 1.5 million francs towards the estimated total budget of 6.5 million francs. Eiffel financed the remainder and was to receive all income derived from commercial exploitation of the tower during the exhibition and for the next 20 years. When those 20 years were up, the tower was to be disassembled and removed.
ARTISTS AGAINST THE EIFFEL TOWER
When work began on the tower’s foundations in January 1887, a "Committee of Three Hundred" (one member for each meter of the tower’s planned height) lodged a formal protest. With the famous architect, Charles Garnier at its head, the committee included some major players in the arts and literature of the time including, among the best known, Alexandre Dumas fils, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod, Leconte de Lisle, Victorien Sardou, François Coppée, Sully Prudhomme, William Bouguereau and Ernest Meissonier. They sent a petition entitled "Artists against the Eiffel Tower” to the Minister of Works and Commissioner for the Exposition, Charles Alphand. It was published by Le Temps on 14 February 1887. It’s worth reading in full, especially in light of the tower’s subsequent history.
“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 … To bring our arguments home, 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.”
Little did they know that the “ghastly dream” would continue indefinitely beyond the 20 years and become one of best known and loved structures in the world.
Gustave Eiffel answered: "La tour sera le plus haut édifice qu'aient jamais élevé les hommes. Ne sera-t-elle donc pas grandiose aussi à sa façon? Et pourquoi ce qui est admirable en Égypte deviendrait-il hideux et ridicule à Paris?” Translation:
“The tower will be the tallest structure ever built by man. Won’t it also then be grandiose in its way? And why should that which is admirable in Egypt be considered hideous and ridiculous in Paris?”
Well we know the outcome. Not only was the Eiffel Tower built to the height of 300 meters (plus 24 additional meters if you include the transmitting equipment at the top) but the original 20-year lifespan was extended indefinitely. It was a huge success at the Exposition, visited by 1,896,987 people who paid the admission of 2 francs for the first level, 3 francs for the second or 5 francs for the top, half price on Sundays.
Many of the protesters changed their minds after the tower was built. But others remained obdurate, including Guy de Maupassant who reportedly ate lunch in the tower's restaurant every day because it was the one place in Paris from which he could not see the tower itself.
The Eiffel Tower has become the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.91 million people ascended it in 2015.
SOME LESS WELL KNOWN FACTS ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTION
The tower is 324 meters (1,063 ft) in height including antenna, taller than the Chrysler Building in New York City.
It weighs 10,000 tons.
It cost 7,799,401.31 French gold francs in 1889, about $1.5 million, to build. It is now worth over 400 billion Euros.
The planning was incredibly detailed and the tower was built in such a way that it could be disassembled easily. There were 1,700 general drawings and 3,629 detailed drawings of the 18,038 different parts needed for the above ground construction, which were joined by a total of 2.5 million rivets.
OF STAIRS, ELEVATORS/LIFTS
The tower has three levels for visitors, the highest being at 276 meters (almost 900 ft) from the ground. There are stairs all the way to the top, about 300 steps to the first level, another 300 to the second and a total of 1,710 steps to the top. Visitors may only climb the stairs to the first level. Most people use the elevators, which go all the way to the top. Each elevator travels a distance of 64,001 miles in a year. The first elevator was installed by the US company Otis, as there were no French companies willing to undertake the venture.
The Eiffel Tower has had several close shaves. As you will see, we are really very lucky to have her with us today!
The tower’s first struggle for survival came before she was even built. As already covered, she escaped the attempt to stop the project, and emerged resplendent for the World Fair.
Her next major challenge was to survive beyond the 20-year cut-off point. The tower had a permit to stand for 20 years and was due to be dismantled in 1909. This was in the contract. But Eiffel installed transmitting equipment at the top, as well as a laboratory, and as a result the tower proved too valuable for communication and scientific research purposes to be dispensed with. In World War I, for example, a radio transmitter atop the tower was used to jam German radio communications, which seriously hindered the German army’s advance on Paris and contributed to the Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne. Just as well the license was extended! And so the tower has remained standing to this day.
Later she survived Adolf Hitler. At the end of WWII, when the Allies were nearing Paris in August 1944, Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz, the then German military governor of Paris, to demolish the tower along with the rest of Paris. Fortunately, Von Choltitz disobeyed that order.
Then she survived Charles de Gaulle. In 1967, the tower was almost dismantled and shipped to Montreal for the Expo 67 held there. Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau negotiated a secret agreement with Charles de Gaulle to this effect, but it was vetoed by the company operating the tower, out of fear that the French government might refuse permission for the icon to be restored in its original location.
She shouldn’t have been born. She should have been dismantled in her early life. She should have been demolished. She should have gone to Canada. But, there she stands on the Champ de Mars in Paris, as tall and as loved as ever, after 130 years. A testimony to the persistence of French artistic sensibilities.
You have probably seen the twinkling lights at night as well as some of the light shows that the Eiffel Tower is famous for, either in person or in photos and video. There is quite a story to the lighting.
When the Eiffel Tower first came into existence at the 1889 Exposition, it was lit after dark by 10,000 gas street lamps, and a beacon sent out beams of red, white and blue light from the top. Two searchlights mounted on a circular rail were used to illuminate various buildings of the exposition.
Between 1925 and 1936, the Citroën car company had illuminated signs sculpted from 250,000 colored lights on three sides of the tower, making it the tallest advertising space in the world. It was from this time that the “Iron Lady” nickname originated, though we have been unable to get a clear explanation of the exact reason for the sobriquet. It is the only time the Eiffel Tower has been used as a gigantic billboard. The lights were so bright they could be seen from a distance of 30 km. In fact, Charles Lindbergh used the tower with the Citroën lights as a beacon when coming in to land at the end of his solo flight across the Atlantic.
Today the Eiffel Tower is illuminated with a system of 336 yellow-orange sodium floodlights shining up from the interior of the structure to impart its golden glow at night. This is the system that was installed in 1985 and has not been changed since. To this a beacon was added in 1999. It sends out two beams of light with a reach of 80 km. The beacon has four motorized searchlights which are operated automatically by computer programs. Then, superimposed over the golden lighting, is a separate system of 20,000 low power light bulbs which sparkle bright white for five minutes every hour from the time when the tower is illuminated until the lights go out at 1 am. The final “twinkle” continues for five minutes after the main lights have been extinguished which gives an entirely different effect as you will see in the videos below. The system installed in 2000 to create the sparkle was not meant to last. It was replaced in 2003 with a longer-lasting set-up.
A QUESTION OF PAINT
In order to prevent corrosion, all the metal parts are coated with paint. The tower is painted in three shades: lighter at the top, getting progressively darker towards the bottom to complement the Parisian sky. It was originally reddish brown; this changed in 1968 to a bronze color known as "Eiffel Tower Brown”.
It is repainted entirely every 7 years, requiring 60 tons of paint for the job.
QUESTIONS OF VISIBILITY – SEEING AND BEING SEEN
A landmark on the Paris city skyline, the Eiffel Tower can be seen for miles around. One can reportedly see a distance of 43 miles from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Can one therefore assume that the tower can itself be seen from that distance? We don’t know. However, one of the huge attractions of the Eiffel Tower, predicted as one of its “evils” by the early detractors, is the fact that it can be seen from so many places around Paris. We keep on getting surprise views of her from unexpected locations. Here are a few. Have a look at the gallery. (If you’re not sure where any of these photos are taken from and would like to know, drop us a line and we’ll get back to you.)
Well, we hoped you learned as much from reading this blog post as we did from putting it together for you!
We’d like to end off with a gallery of some of the Eiffel Tower images that are already in our shops and available as prints and canvases (note that some of these are in Parisian Moments and some are in Georgianna’s Etsy shop). For those already listed, we’ve linked straight to the listing. And of course if you would like a print or canvas of an image not in the shops, please drop us a line letting us know which you would like and we’ll make it available.
These are not all the Eiffel Tower images in our shops, but a good selection. All are available on canvas as well as archival quality photographic paper. Feel free to go to the Parisian Moments shop and Georgianna Lane’s shop to see more.
Thanks very much for reading the blog post. We hope you enjoyed it. We would love you to leave a comment. Let us know which your favorite picture is, whether or not you already knew the information presented here, your favorite view of the Eiffel Tower, ask us any questions, and share anything else you would like to. And please send your friends to this blog post.
Georgianna and David