The Eiffel Tower is almost always at the top of the list of “must-sees” for a first-time tourist to Paris, France. Even if you’ve been to Paris and ascended the tower, your second or third visits to the city might include another trip up the iron structure. The view of the tower from below is awesome; the views of the city from above are equally so.
History of the Tower
In 1889, Paris was the home to a Universal Exposition or World’s Fair – 100 years after the end of the French Revolution. Artists and architects submitted plans in a competition for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars (park) in the center of Paris, which would be the entrance to the exposition.
Scientist and engineer, Gustave Eiffel won the competition. Known for his expertise in building bridges, Eiffel guided the team that built the famous tower. The tower, that now bears Eiffel’s name was actually designed by his employee, Maurice Koechlin, who later worked with Eiffel on the armature of the Statue of Liberty. Stephen Sauvestre worked with Koechlin, adding the tower’s decorative arches.
The design called for more than 18,000 pieces of iron and 2.5 million rivets. Several hundred workers spent two years assembling the tower, which stands nearly 1,000 feet high – the tallest structure in the world when it was finished.
From the beginning, the tower possessed its opponents. Led by Charles Garnier, designer of the Paris Opera House, a group of artists and engineers led an organized protest. They spoke of how the tower would look like a “gigantic black smokestack” or a “blot of ink” towering over the beautiful monuments of the city.
Some of those who objected backed off after the tower was completed, but others never did. Guy de Maupassant was said to have eaten lunch in a tower restaurant every day since that was the only place where the tower was not visible in the city’s skyline.
Gustave Eiffel had obtained a permit for the tower to remain in place for 20 years. One of the requirements of its plan was that it would be easy to dismantle. The city had intended to tear it down, but after recognizing its use as a radio communication tower, they decided to leave it. Eiffel and others performed meteorologic and scientific experiments from the top for several years.
During the Universal Exposition, nearly two million visitors ascended part, or all, of the tower. The elevators were not completed until partway through the exposition, so some of the visitors actually climbed all the way to the top.
Today, nearly seven million visitors a year ascend the tower. It has become an iconic symbol of Paris, despite its rough beginning. More than 30 replicas or similar structures have been built around the world, including the well-known one in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Over the years, the elevators have been refurbished and replaced several times. Some of the lifts were hydraulic, powered with a reservoir system. Others worked as a counterbalance to each other, with one going up as the other comes down.
The tower is repainted every seven years, using 60 tons of paint each time. It takes 25 painters 18 months to scrape, clean, and paint the entire tower by hand.
In 1985 lights were installed on the tower so it was lit throughout, rather than just by beams from the ground. For its “Countdown to the Year 2000” celebration on December 31, 1999, two types of new lights were installed on the tower. First, 6000 watt searchlights were installed at the top forming a rotation beam that covers 360°. In addition, 20,000 sparkling lights were installed with 5000 on each side of the tower. The lights were lit each night for five minutes every hour that the tower was lit until July 14, 2001. The lights were again met with controversy – people opposed the glaring spectacle that shown each night.
Although the opposition was relieved when the light show stopped in 2001, it seems the majority liked the light show, so in June of 2003, the sparkling lights were replaced. They were lit for ten minutes at the top of the hour every evening. The lights were expected to last ten years, but in 2008, the sparkle time of ten minutes was shortened to five, so the bulbs would require less energy and last longer. Newer, more energy-efficient bulbs have now replaced the original ones and the sparkle show continues every evening.
The Eiffel Tower and its image have been in the public domain for several years, since copyright usually lasts 70 years after the death of the artist. In June 1990, a French court ruled that the lights installed in 1985 were covered under copyright protection. The Société d’Exploitation Eiffel (SETE) also considers the sparkling lights to be a separate “original visual creation” protected by copyright.
What does this mean? For tourists, virtually nothing. Tourists are allowed to take any pictures they want and display them for personal use. For media personnel, however, including website owners like me, it means that I cannot publish pictures of the tower at night without permission from the SETE. Permission is granted through the payment of fees and since this site does not produce a positive income yet, I have not requested permission. Even though I have taken many pictures of the awesome tower at night, you will not see any of these night-time pictures on this website for now.
The Tower’s Future
It is obvious that the tower – and its light show- is here to stay – the controversy has completely passed. Continued maintenance on the tower is expensive but necessary. In addition, beginning in September of this year, the tower has begun a 15 year, €300 million renovation and security update.
Highlights of the project include “the installation of a protective barrier surrounding the monument, the renovation of the second floor, [and] the renovation of the Tower’s beacon.” In order to partially finance the improvements, admission fees have been increased.
Ascending the Eiffel Tower
Ascending the Eiffel Tower is a must for first time visitors to Paris. Those who have not been up the tower for a while, may want to visit the newly renovated first floor and the second floor when it is finished.
Next week, I’ll have more information on the logistics of visiting the tower. If you have any questions, please respond to this post or email me, so I can include the answers then.