I’m not sure how it came to pass that I was in the Paris area for 33 days before seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. You will remember that on my first day venturing into the city, it beckoned to my eyes and subsequently my feet started a path of their own accord. The Tower is always gorgeous and mystical but the difference between seeing it at day and night is like, well, the difference between day and night! Every night the Tower twinkles with a 20,000 bulb sparkling light show at the top of each hour. It’s one of the most spectacular sights in all of Paris, and probably all of Europe.
The Eiffel Tower was originally constructed as the centerpiece for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, or World’s Fair to celebrate the centennial of France’s Revolution. A design competition was held with engineer Gustave Eiffel being awarded the commission. His design was criticized by many Parisians, mainly artists who accused the tower of being useless, monstrous, and creating an ugly cloud over the city and its beautiful buildings. The Tower was only supposed to stand for 20 years and then be dismantled in 1909. Upon it’s opening in 1889, the Tower was an immediate success though. Almost 2 million visitors ascended the stairs during the Exposition Universelle.
The Eiffel Tower proved many artists wrong when it became a useful tool in World War I. Radio transmitters were fitted to the top of the Tower to thwart German communications. It was another source of military strategy in World War II. The lift cables were cut so that Nazi soldiers would have to climb the Tower on foot if they wanted to hang the Swastika during the German Occupation. The Nazis were successful for a brief moment, until a Frenchman scaled the Tower to hang the French flag. Hitler once ordered it to be demolished along with the rest of Paris but his orders were disobeyed by General Dietrich von Choltitz. Hitler himself never climbed the Eiffel Tower, leading the French to declare that he might of conquered France but he did not conquer the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower stands at 320 meters (1,050 feet) and was the tallest man-made structure in the world from 1889 until the Chrysler Building was constructed in 1930. It is still the tallest structure in Paris and will likely always be. Made of wrought iron, the structure weighs a mighty 10,000 tons. In 1925 the con artist Victor Lustig “sold” the tower for scrap metal on two separate occasions, making a great deal of money out of the “deal.” There is a fantastic series on National Geographic called “Pricing the Priceless” which discusses what the Eiffel Tower would be “worth” in a variety of scenarios. Speculations put the cost at about $480,000,000 to re-build today. They estimate that the land under the tower is worth $350,000,000, and that the scrap value of the tower is worth $3,500,000. Additionally, the show estimates that the tower makes a profit of about $29,000,000 per year. I highly recommend watching the program, but the conclusion is the same to all involved: it is truly priceless, not to be confused with worthless (dear artists of 1889).
Every year approximately 7 million visitors ascend the Eiffel Tower. It is the most-visited paid monument in the world. The Tower received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010. I “visited” the Tower upon my first trip to Paris, so I’m glad that my hard-earned dollars assist in making this cultural icon a money-making machine. Although with the third level observatory’s upper platform at a mere 279.11 meters (915.7 feet), I decided against taking in the best view of Paris. This platform is the highest accessible to the public in the European Union, and much too high for my acrophobia. Visitors can choose to walk up the stairs to the first two viewing platforms or take the lift. From there, you can only use a lift to the top. When we got off the first lift at the second platform, I already knew I could not go any higher! I held on for dear life and snapped a few pictures but made my way back down within minutes. I keep saying that maybe I’ll try again while I’m in Paris this time around but I highly doubt it.
The Eiffel Tower is definitely the most recognized symbol of Paris and France and probably one of the most recognizable in the entire world. No matter where I am in Paris, when I catch sight of the Tower, I am always awe-struck. Initially it was thought to be an eye-sore but I believe it is quite the opposite. Despite what popular films would have you believe, you cannot see the Eiffel Tower from everywhere in the city. Though it is taller than all buildings, often times your vantage point from the street will be obstructed by the many 6-7 story buildings throughout Paris. That is why whenever I do see the Tower, I am always surprised, excited, and reminded of how lucky I am to be in Paris. I’m sure that many full-time residents of Paris become immune to the allure of La Tour Eiffel, as is typical with any amazing thing that you see every day. But I’m still in love with it, and I vow to make my way into the city many more times at night during the next 5 weeks so that I can view this spectacular icon again and again and again…