The Eiffel Tower has become iconic of the French capital, and famous around the world. Yet it’s a relatively recent addition to the Paris skyline. So how did the tower come to be in the first place?
The World’s Fair
World’s fairs, or international expos, have been taking place around the world since the 19th century. It’s a pretty cool concept, with nations coming together to showcase their discoveries, inventions, and achievements. There are different sorts of fairs and expos that take place nowadays. The most recent was the Expo 2017, held in Kazakhstan. Sometimes they last a few weeks, sometimes they roll on for months.
Paris has a long tradition of holding world’s fairs, or ‘Expositions Universelles’ as they call them. Makes sense, seeing as the French more or less invented them, as they held national exhibitions, to showcase the country’s inventions, especially during the Industrial Revolution. London beat them to the international front though, hosting the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace, in 1851. Paris held its first ‘Exposition Universelle’ on the Champs-Élysées in 1855, for six months. It showed both industrial designs and fine arts.
The 1889 World’s Fair is the one we’re interested in though! It was held to mark the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, which kicked off the French Revolution. They decided to hold it on the Champs Mars, a large park close to the River Seine. And they decided that a monument would be built to serve as the entrance to the expo. An iron tower, 125ft wide and 300ft high. Sound familiar? Anyway, a competition to design it began!
Eiffel’s Design & Construction
The competition proved to be pretty popular, with over 100 entries submitted! Gustave Eiffel’s was the winner, but we can’t give him all the credit here, despite the tower bearing his name. His company built it, but it was engineers Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier who designed it. Eiffel actually rejected their first proposal, so they asked architect Stephen Sauvestre for assistance, and the new design was eventually.
Their plan was to build a pylon structure, with four columns, wide at the base and getting closer together, to join at the top, with three floors between. They also went way over the initial 300ft measurement, finishing up at a whopping 1000ft instead! Thing is, back then, not everyone liked the sound of the tower – can you blame them? If we didn’t know it as being so iconic today, we would think them mad to build something like that in the middle of Paris! Many artists protested at the time, saying it was an eyesore that would ruin the city’s elegant aesthetic, this great big ugly iron monster.
Nevertheless, construction went ahead. They started work in 1887 and completed it two years later, in 1889, just a few months before the World’s Fair began. The Eiffel Tower is made from over 18,000 pieces of iron, joined by over 2.5 million rivets. A team of several hundred workers took on the project. The angles of the tower are so complex that measurements had to incredibly precise – no one wants that thing falling apart on top of the fair! And the lifts had to move inside the legs, travelling inwards, as well as up and down! When it was completed, Eiffel himself climbed the 1,710 steps to the top to place the French flag on the cupola.
Saving the Tower
The Eiffel Tower was never meant to be permanent. It’s hard to imagine this nowadays, as so many of us can’t picture Paris without it! But the original plan was to keep it for twenty years, and then tear it down in 1909. Yet despite all those complaints about the design, once it was completed, people seemed to fall in love with it. It was certainly an impressive feat of engineering! During that 1889 World’s Fair, over two million people visited the tower. For the 1900 Fair, the gas lamps were replaced by electric ones, a large undertaking at the time. Yet the number of visitors declined….
So, that wasn’t going to be enough to save it from demolition though. What made the difference was the realisation that the Eiffel Tower could actually have some practical function. Gustave Eiffel was determined to prove this, so many experiments were conducted, including meteorology and aerodynamics. Eventually though, they realised that if you stick a radio antennae on top, it’s the perfect mast tower! The army took interest in this, so by the time 1909 rolled around, the tower was allowed to remain.
The Eiffel Tower played a vital role in military communication during World War I, allowed the dispatch of emergency troops or the interception of enemy communication. It nearly met its end in World War II though, when the Germans occupied Paris, as well as much of Europe, and Hitler ordered it to be destroyed! It’s still standing today though, so as you can guess, the order was never carried out.
Since the Eiffel Tower was now here to stay, it was going to need a bit of maintenance to make sure it lasts! In the 1980s, it went for a major facelift, replacing the lifts with new cars and updating them to an automated computer system. It also now has to be repainted every seven years – must be a slightly boring task, but a necessity! The antennae is also now still used for radio and television broadcast signals.
For the new millennium in 2000, they installed searchlights on the top and over 20,000 flashing bulbs all over the tower. These flashed for five minutes every hour as it counted down to midnight on 31st December 1999, so the tower appeared to ‘sparkle’. Now, this happens every night, so the bulbs have to be replaced every few years! After a terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, the Eiffel Tower’s lights displayed the French flag, as did other monuments around the world. They have repeated the action with the flags of other countries when other such attacks have happened, in solidarity.
While Paris is full of incredible sights to visit, no other location seems to be quite as famous as the Eiffel Tower. It now attracts over 7 million visitors every year, and has surpassed 250 million in total! It gets splashed on anything and everything to symbolise Paris, and people all over the world recognise that iconic shape. Other countries have even built their own replicas of it, such as in Macau and Las Vegas! Nothing can measure up to the original though, once hated, but now an integral part of the Paris skyline.
Inside the Eiffel Tower
The first question you have to ask yourself when visiting the tower, is how energetic are you feeling? You can of course take the lifts to all three levels, or you can choose to brave the stairs up to the second floor! The top floor is only accessible by lift though. The stairs are sometimes a faster option if the queues for the lifts are very long – it averages 25,000 visitors every single day!
Each of the three floors is smaller than the one before it, and each has various other things to see and do. The first floor has exhibitions and displays about the tower itself, plus a glass floor section! And in winter, they even install an ice rink each year. Both the first and second floors have restaurants and souvenir shops. However, if you’re feeling extra fancy, the second is also home to the Michelin-starred Jules Verne restaurant!
The third floor is at the very top, 267m in the air, with only the radio antennae above (taking the total height to 324m)! This is where you’ll get the widest, sweeping views over Paris, but you can also sip on a glass of champagne from the bar or peek inside Gustave Eiffel’s office!
Views of the Tower
The funny thing about climbing the Eiffel Tower, is that you’ll find yourself staring out at a view of Paris that is missing it’s most famous landmark – because you’re standing on it! To see the Parisian skyline, tower included, instead head up the Montparnasse Tower. Now, if people hated the Eiffel Tower back when it was built, they’d really hate the Montparnasse Tower! It’s a 210m square skyscraper, which looks like it’s fallen out of New York City. But, you’ll get great views of the Eiffel Tower from the observation floor and the rooftop. Plus, there’s the added bonus of not having to look at the Montparnasse Tower…
Another option is to climb to the dome of the Sacré-Coeur, over in Montmartre. Seeing as it’s built atop a hill, you’re actually even higher up than you might realise, and you’ll get sweeping views all over Paris.
The Eiffel Tower is actually most impressive close up, from ground level. You can walk on the esplanade underneath it without having to buy a ticket. The Champs Mars are ideal, as is the Trocadéro just across the river. These gardens are especially popular in the evenings, when people gather to see the tower sparkle with lights on each hour after nightfall. You can see it from plenty of other locations around the centre of Paris too, peeking out from between other buildings, that iconic image reminding you of where you are!
Entry: Prices vary depending on whether you want to go to the second or top floors, and if you want to take the lift or brave the stairs! Note that the top floor can only be reached by lift!
Second floor by lift – Adult €16.30, Youth (12-24yo) €8.10, Child (4-11) €4.10
Second floor by stairs – Adult €10.20, Youth €5.10, Child €2.50
Top & second floor by lift – Adult €25.50, Youth €12.70, Child €6.40
Top floor by lift, second floor by stairs – Adult €19.40, Youth €9.70, Child €4.90
Opening hours: For most of the year, the lifts are open from 09.30am – 23.45pm, and the stairs from 09.30am – 18.30pm. During summer months, both the lift and stairs remain open until 00.45am.
The Eiffel Tower is located next to the Champ Mars, near the shore of the River Seine, in the 7th arrondissement. You can reach it easily by public transport, with several metro stations, bus stops, and an RER station all within walking distance. If you are driving, there are some covered car parks nearby – though central Paris is usually navigated easier on the metro! You can also rent a bike to get around Paris, or take a boat along the Seine!
Have you visited the Eiffel Tower before? Leave a comment about your experience!