What visitor to Paris doesn’t already have in their mind’s eye the lacy ironwork of the Eiffel Tower? Along with baguettes and the Tricolor, it’s the world’s vision of France, and all that is romantic about its capital city.
It’s also a pretty impressive feat of engineering. Originally built in 1889 as the entrance to the World’s Fair, it was to be torn down after a few short years, but a previously uncertain public had fallen in love with the tower, and it was allowed to remain. It has since held the title of the world’s tallest building, the most-visited paying attraction, and is still the highest public viewpoint in the EU. The engineers who designed the tower worked for Gustave Eiffel and it was he who saw through its funding, development and construction. It was put together like a giant Meccano set, with the bravest workers running tightropes and rope ladders along its cloud-level beams.
Having recently reached its 250millionth visitor, however, its romance is not to be enjoyed in solitude. To beat the queues, the stairs are a less crowded, and cheaper, option. They go as high as the second level, but then it’s the lift to the windy top. Mornings see fewer tourists, and late evenings provide beautiful views. The lights of the tower are a feature in themselves, and the yellow glow switches every so often to crackling white like roman candles. In the early hours when the lights aren’t lit, it’s easy to feel like Paris has been switched off.
The Tower, like many modern conceptions of ancient architecture, was not widely popular. A host of 300 artists, architects, sculptors and writers protested against its construction, led by Charles Garnier (he of the Opera Garnier), including Guy de Maupassant, Jules Massenet and Charles Gounod. Maupassant would later eat in the restaurant in the Tower every day, as the only place in Paris where he would not have to look at it.
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