Paris is so closely associated with the Eiffel Tower that when you see the Eiffel Tower you think of Paris, and when you see the word “Paris” you think of the Eiffel Tower. They’ve almost become synonymous with each other! The Eiffel is so well-known that it would be easy to overlook the experience of visiting it. But visiting the Eiffel Tower is not at all the same as fulfilling your obligation of going up the CN Tower or the Space Needle or some other high point when you visit a city with a tower. Obviously you get a nice view of Paris from the top levels. But if going up a tower can have an atmosphere, then going up the Eiffel Tower has an atmosphere about it. It still holds the flavour of 1889. If you are too sophisticated of a tourist to check it out, you are really missing out.
When I was first trying to convince my dad that we should go to Paris, I kept telling him that he’d love to see the Eiffel Tower. He’d done a lot of work in designing intricate steel connections between joists in his job. And he kept replying, “I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. I’ve seen it a thousand times.” And it is constantly being shown everywhere, in pictures and on TV. But when we got there, he was impressed. “The pictures don’t really show it!” he said, going on and going about the immense size of the iron beams and the number of rivets that held the whole thing together. And he was right–you can’t wrap your head around the scale from the little cartoon sketches of it on all the brochures. It’s obviously far from the tallest tower in the world, but it manages to convey the achievement that it was for humanity at the time, to raise so many heavy iron beams to the sky. Prior to its construction, no tower had ever reached 300 metres–or even 200 metres.
And yet–it is all enormous iron beams, and yet it’s elegant. It bears no resemblance to a cellphone tower, or an electrical transmission tower. Those are entirely built for function, and while in a sense the Eiffel Tower was purely built for the purpose of standing tall, its designers clearly paid some attention to its visual impact. Its well-known that Parisians initially thought it was ugly. But little details, like its four enormous arches, and the gentle curve of it flowing up to its point, etch it in your memory. It does not feel modern, despite having its internal structure on display in a way that’s now very common in our modern age. It brings forward a bit of the late 1800s into the present–maybe it’s the wrought iron it’s made of, or the lacy design of the arches. Its critics argued against it because they didn’t want a “gigantic black smokestack” overshadowing all the other landmarks of the Parisian skyline, afraid of historic beauty being crushed by utilitarian industry. But it is a testament to the design of the Eiffel Tower that it is not regarded as an industrial smokestack at all today.
“My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt [in the height of the Pyramids] become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?” said its builder, Gustave Eiffel.
You should go up it if you can, if the line’s not too long. You can even take the stairs (I haven’t tried this). I enjoyed both the highest level, with the farthest view, and the lowest level, from which you can almost converse with the city of Paris from your perch in the clouds. It’s also very fun to catch a view of the Tower at night, because it is always lit up against the sky.
- Original quote from the letter opposing the Eiffel Tower: “Imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.”
- From time to time, parts of the original staircases of the Eiffel Tower pop up at auctions. If you’ve got enough extra cash lying around, maybe you can snag one for you house.
- My novella, Paris in Clichés, does include a brief scene at the Eiffel Tower!
Posts in this series:
- Paris is Still Always a Good Idea
- Shakespeare and Company
- Berthillon: An Astonishing Ice Cream Shop on the Île Saint-Louis
- Bateaux Mouches on the River Seine
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