The Eiffel Tower
According to a British report, the Eiffel Tower is “overpriced and overcrowded” (Paris, 2007). After all, the laws of demand and supply are at work at tourist sites to boot. The Eiffel Tower has been visited by two hundred million people already (“Facts about the Eiffel Tower, Paris”). The fact that it is “overpriced and overcrowded” only shows its worth (Paris). The tower is counted among modern wonders of the world (LeBoutillier). “[A] universal symbol of Paris,” the Eiffel Tower is undoubtedly magnificent (Barthes 172). It welcomes visitors 365 days of the year. From celebrities to strollers – all who have visited Paris have seen this grand, 324 meters high tower made with wrought iron of the finest quality (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower;” “Facts about the Eiffel Tower, Paris”).
Le Corbusier wrote, “In every heart, the sign of beloved Paris, the beloved sign of Paris,” referring to the Eiffel Tower (Herve 13). This is the symbol of a city known for its love of arts. As such, the tower is open to all visitors in Paris regardless of race, gender, religion, etc. Even those who have never visited Paris know the Eiffel Tower, for “it is everywhere on the globe where Paris is to be stated as an image…” (Barthes 172). People around the world may or may not recognize Parisian arts in photographs. If shown images of the Eiffel Tower, on the other hand, they can immediately tell that the tower is in Paris. Thus, the tower serves “as the major sign of a people and of a place” (Barthes 172). Even for people in Paris, the tower is impossible to overlook. Barthes describes the presence of the tower in Paris thus:
And it’s true that you must take endless precautions, in Paris, not to see the Eiffel Tower; whatever the season, through mist and cloud, on overcast days or in sunshine, in rain – wherever you are, whatever the landscape of roofs, domes, or branches separating you from it, the Tower is there; incorporated into daily life until you can no longer grant it any specific attribute, determined merely to persist, like a rock or the river, it is as literal as a phenomenon of nature whose meaning can be questioned to infinity but whose existence is incontestable… (Barthes 172)
To those who planned the Eiffel Tower, its meaning is clear: the tower was built toward the end of the nineteenth century “when France needed a boost” (LeBoutillier 6). France had been humiliated by Germany through the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. The army of Napoleon III had been throttled. Paris had experienced a siege for months through this war. Twenty thousand Parisians had lost their lives. Those who had survived were starving to death. Some butchered zoo animals to feed themselves (LeBoutillier 6).
France was politically at a loss before a new government emerged in 1875. Named the Third Republic, the new government planned a Universal Exposition of the Products of Industry to be held in the year 1889 (LeBoutillier 6). The Exposition, to be hosted in Paris, invited members of nations around the globe to share innovative ideas and show their “latest technological inventions” (LeBoutillier 6). Furthermore, the event was meant to “mark the centennial of France’s 1789 revolution and give the city of Paris a source of pride” (LeBoutillier 6).
For this event, the city of Paris and all people of France gathered ideas “to impress the world” (LeBoutillier 6). There had been discussions on constructing a magnificent tower. Both England and the United States were planning to build great towers. So, the French minister of commerce and industry decided to declare a contest for engineers and architects to build a 1000-foot tower for the Exposition to be held in 1889 (LeBoutillier 6-7).
There were fantastic designs proposed at the time. The winning proposal belonged to Gustave Eiffel, not because it was the grandest; rather, his plan was simple, cheap, and therefore, more efficient than the rest (LeBoutillier 8). Eiffel was “[a] self-made millionaire, France’s most successful railway bridge builder, and an engineer of global ambition” (Jonnes 3). He had offices in Shanghai, Saigon and Peru among other places (Jonnes 3). A graduate from Ecole Centrale de Paris, Eiffel had built the Maria Pia bridge in Portugal, the Garabit Viaduct in France, and Hungary’s Budapest station. He was also responsible for the Statue of Liberty’s interior structure, Nice observatory’s cupola, and metal structures of Paris’ Credit Lyonnais bank and Bon Marche store (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). The Eiffel Tower being “his crowning glory,” it required Eiffel to spend a long time conducting “experiments in air resistance,” etc. (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). According to the official website of the tower, it is because of Eiffel’s experimentation that the tower still stands. In fact, the Eiffel Tower was only built to last twenty years (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”).
Eiffel had wanted to construct the tower so it would be sturdy enough to endure all kinds of weather. As he had recently invented a new technique to build iron bridges, he wanted to use a similar kind of iron for the tower. Construction began in July 1887 (LeBoutillier 8-10). Jonnes describes Eiffel’s dedication to the construction job thus: “Stolid and imperturbable, he could be found most days – sun, rain, snow, sleet – at the Champ de Mars, perched on the construction platform directing his men as they assembled the colossal wrought-iron tower. For nine months Parisians had watched in fascination as the slanting legs of the much-discussed structure rose visibly week by week” (Jonnes 3). But, everybody was not delighted about construction of the Eiffel Tower. As a matter of fact, forty seven renowned Parisians issued a letter of protest against the building, stating that the tower would most likely ruin the beautiful Parisian skyline (LeBoutillier 10). The letter read thus: “Writers, painters, sculptors, architects, passionate lovers of the heretofore intact beauty of Paris, we come to protest with all our strength, with all our indignation, in the name of betrayed French taste, in the name of threatened French art and history, against the erection in the heart of our capital of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower” (LeBoutillier 10). To this letter, Eiffel had replied that his tower, too, would turn out to be beautiful. Furthermore, the builder had stated that engineers also have an eye for beauty, elegance and harmony (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”).
Of course, the protest was of no avail. The tower had to be built according to plan, changing the Parisian skyline for as long as it stands. After all, the Eiffel Tower was built to boost France. It was further meant to boast the grandeur that France believed it possessed regardless of its political problems. Today, the tower, 10100 tons in weight, seems to have fulfilled the purposes it was built for (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). France is a highly respected nation with a healthy economy. Wherever the sign of the Eiffel Tower is displayed, the greatness of France is visible. So, even if France is not a superpower, it is sturdy like the great Eiffel Tower.
It took 7,799, 401.31 in the French currency of 1889 to build the tower. Eiffel had installed elevators in the tower at the time. As the construction must constantly go through renovation, there are new elevators at the moment, traveling more than 103,000 kilometers each year. But, engineers have not been able to discover how to stop the movement of the top of the tower. In point of fact, the Eiffel Tower slightly sways in the wind. It moved around thirteen centimeters during the 1999 storm. The tower also leans approximately eighteen centimeters in the heat, as its portions exposed to direct sunlight tend to expand more than its portions in the shade (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”).
The tower’s lighting, too, is rather amazing. Throughout the year 2000, onlookers could read “Year 2000” on the tower (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). The Eiffel Tower turned blue at the end of the year. In the year 2003, it took on the same color for some time. Its color was changed to red to mark the new year of Chinese people the following year. Also in 2004, the tower was turned golden with its lighting. It turned blue again in the year 2006 (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). In this way, the Eiffel Tower never ages in the sight of its onlookers.
The tower must be repainted every seven years. In the year 2001, the cost of painting the entire tower was three million Euros. It takes approximately eighteen months for a paint job each time. Sixty tons of paint and twenty five painters are required for the task. Originally painted reddish-brown, the tower is nowadays painted with a blend of bronze, reddish-brown and ocher-yellow to complement the Parisian sky color (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). After all, Paris is still a city of art.
The Eiffel Tower had restaurants for the Exposition just as it has restaurants today for visitors from around the world. Referring to the Eiffel Tower as the Iron Lady, the official website of the tower further reveals that there have been exhibitions hosted at the tower since 1982 (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). In fact, “Lovers of the Eiffel Tower,” an exhibition held in 1982, was the first after the Exposition of the nineteenth century (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). Then there are exhibitions held in collaboration with the Eiffel Tower, and exhibitions about the tower held around the world (“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower”). Eiffel was right, after all: the tower is beautiful. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the world continues to celebrate it.
“All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower.” 8 May 2010.
Barthes, Roland. “The Eiffel Tower.” In Neil Leach (ed.), Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in
Cultural Theory (172-181). New York, NY: Routledge, 2004.
“Facts about the Eiffel Tower, Paris.” Buzzle.com. 2010. 8 May 2010.
Herve, Lucien. The Eiffel Tower. New York, NY: Princeton Cultural Press, 2003.
Jonnes, Jill. Eiffel’s Tower. New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2009.
LeBoutillier, Nate. Eiffel Tower: Modern Wonders of the World. Mankato, MN: Creative
Paris, Natalie. “Eiffel Tower ‘Most Disappointing’ Tourist Spot.” Telegraph. 17 Aug 2007. 8
May 2010. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1560572/Eiffel-Tower-most-disappointing-tourist-spot.html>.