Dis­cover the ori­gins and his­tory of the most recog­nis­able ed­i­fice in France.

France - - CONTENTS -

Built for the 1889 Ex­po­si­tion Uni­verselle, cel­e­brat­ing the cen­ten­nial of the French Revo­lu­tion, France’s most fa­mous icon was the sub­ject of con­tro­versy right from its birth. Not that Eif­fel’s ‘baby’ was so unique; just a few decades ear­lier in 1866, ar­chi­tect Vic­tor Bal­tard, who was one of the pi­o­neers of me­tal ar­chi­tec­ture, re­built food mar­ket Les Halles in a sim­i­lar style. But Les Halles only cov­ered some 40,000m² of land, whereas at the time Eif­fel’s 300m-high iron struc­ture was the tallest build­ing in the world.

How it nearly never hap­pened

The tower’s cre­ator, Alexan­dre Gus­tave Eif­fel, was born in Di­jon in 1832 and spent long years learn­ing his trade, be­fore be­com­ing a fully fledged en­tre­pre­neur spe­cial­is­ing in the new iron build­ing tech­nique known as la char­p­ente mé­tallique. Af­ter build­ing sev­eral Ital­ian viaducts, a Hun­gar­ian train sta­tion and the struc­tural el­e­ments of the Statue of Lib­erty, Eif­fel be­gan work on that fa­mous tower.

As soon as work be­gan in Fe­bru­ary 1887, Le Temps, one of one of the most im­por­tant daily news­pa­pers dur­ing the French Third Repub­lic, pub­lished a pe­ti­tion signed by renowned per­son­al­i­ties in­clud­ing Mau­pas­sant, Zola, and Charles Garnier, ar­chi­tect of Paris’ cel­e­brated Palais Garnier, de­mand­ing that the tower should not be built be­cause it would be “ugly and pur­pose­less”.

The let­ter read: “We have come, writ­ers, pain­ters, sculp­tors, ar­chi­tects, pas­sion­ate en­thu­si­asts of the hith­erto un­touched beauty of Paris, to protest with all our strength, all our in­dig­na­tion, in the name of the un­known French taste, in the name of art and of French his­tory threat­ened, against the erec­tion, in the heart of our cap­i­tal, of the use­less and mon­strous Eif­fel Tower, which pub­lic ma­lig­nity, of­ten marked by com­mon sense and the spirit of jus­tice, has al­ready named of ‘Tower of Ba­bel.’

Us­ing his right to re­ply, in the same news­pa­per Eif­fel re­torted: “There is […] in that which is colos­sal […] a unique charm to which the or­di­nary the­o­ries of art can­not be ap­plied.”

It took two years to build the tower and, for those long years, the ar­gu­ments flew back and forth, with es­say­ist Léon Bloy de­scrib­ing the project as a “truly tragic lamp­post” and nov­el­ist Joris-karl Huys­mans declar­ing that it would look like “a sup­pos­i­tory rid­dled with holes”. De­spite the con­stant flak, how­ever, work con­tin­ued and on 31 March 1889 the French flag was hoisted to the top of Eif­fel’s iron tower and vis­i­tors from all over Europe flocked to see the gi­gan­tic mon­u­ment. Faced with the tower’s im­mense suc­cess, de­trac­tors were forced to ad­mit that Eif­fel might have had some­thing af­ter all.

On the side of the tower, un­der the first bal­cony, 72 names of French sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers and math­e­ma­ti­cians are en­graved in recog­ni­sa­tion of their con­tri­bu­tions to their fields. How­ever, the list has been crit­i­cised for not in­clud­ing any women; most notably So­phie Ger­main, a math­e­ma­ti­cian whose the­ory of elas­tic­ity was used in the con­struc­tion of the tower it­self.

Eif­fel’s bat­tle to save his ‘baby’

But the bat­tle wasn’t over for the tower’s cre­ator. The land on which the mon­u­ment was built had been leased to Eif­fel by the city of Paris but only for twenty years, af­ter which it would be taken down and sold for scrap me­tal. In or­der to en­sure his oeu­vre’s dura­bil­ity he had to prove its util­ity.

Over the next two decades Eif­fel as­sailed lo­cal au­thor­i­ties with vis­its and let­ters hop­ing to con­vince them that the cul­mi­na­tion of his life’s work should re­main. Fi­nally in 1906, when Eif­fel was

74 years old, he won the long bat­tle to save his tower by in­stalling an an­tenna on top and us­ing it to trans­mit wire­less mes­sages. With the in­creas­ing need for wire­less teleg­ra­phy, the city de­cided to re­new Eif­fel’s con­ces­sion when it ex­pired in 1909. To­day there are more than 100 an­ten­nae broad­cast­ing to the world from the top of Eif­fel’s tower.

Be­com­ing a French icon

With the tower’s re­sound­ing suc­cess, spin-offs were quick to fol­low. Black­pool had an iron tower by 1894 and Berlin was soon to fol­low. Fi­nally, in 1958, Tokyo built a taller tower, top­ping Eif­fel’s by thir­teen me­tres. From Eif­fel tower lamp stands to bed­side mats and can­dle­sticks, smaller ver­sions of the tower were flood­ing the mar­ket too. The tower that was built as a tribute to the French Revo­lu­tion, had be­come the man­tel­piece bric à brac of many Euro­pean homes.

By the 1920s, the once-vil­i­fied mon­u­ment had be­come an icon of moder­nity and an in­spi­ra­tion for artists in­clud­ing Utrillo, Dufy and Cha­gall, along with film­mak­ers rang­ing from Truf­faut to Lelouch, and fash­ion de­sign­ers like Jean Paul Gaultier, who even cre­ated a cheeky col­lec­tion of Eif­fel tower un­der­wear.

The Eif­fel Tower re­mained the tallest build­ing in the world right up to the 1930s, when it was de­throned by the Chrysler build­ing in New York. Even so, the mon­u­ment con­tin­ues to at­tract vis­i­tors from all over the world and the French have voted it their favourite mon­u­ment in count­less polls.

Since its con­struc­tion, more than 300 mil­lion peo­ple have climbed the tower, which is a far greater num­ber than its cre­ator could have imag­ined in his wildest dreams and quite an achieve­ment for a French icon that nar­rowly missed head­ing for the scrap­yard.

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