Those who have studied Europe and the trends in tourism will know that France is the most popular tourist destination in Europe by a long way and one of the more popular in the world. Perhaps the best known figure associated with France is that of the Eiffel Tower which has seen over 200 million visitors since it was built. So why was the Eiffel Tower built in the first place? What exactly does it do? What has it done for France?
The history of the Eiffel Tower
To the naked eye the Eiffel Tower is a basic iron structure which does not appear to have any particular use, is not particularly beautiful so why has it become perhaps the most recognised structure in the world?
Named after the man who designed the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel, the project was built between 1887 and 1889 but purely as an entrance arch to the world fair celebrating the French Revolution. Originally the structure had been planned for Barcelona in 1888 but the authorities there did not believe it fitted in with the culture and design of the region and refused permission, at which point the designer applied to the Paris authorities to have the structure erected in France.
When building of the structure started in 1887 there were concerns about the safety of workmen as unlike any other structure the world the Eiffel Tower is open plan and very very open to the elements. However, Gustave Eiffel took many precautions to ensure the safety of workers and during the two years it took to build Eiffel Tower only one construction worker died and that was rumoured to be outside of working hours.
Initially the idea of the Eiffel Tower was met with disdain by many members of the public who, probably influenced by the fact that Barcelona had rejected idea, were not pleased to have a Spanish reject relocated to France.
The Eiffel Tower took 2 years, two months and five days to complete from start to finish and was built by a workforce of 300 people. In all, the project used 18,038 pieces of steel, 2.5 million rivets and at the time was officially the tallest building in the world, a title which it held until 1930 when New York’s Chrysler building was completed. Even more than 100 years later the Eiffel Tower is still the fifth largest structure in France and still the largest structure in Paris.
In total there were 7,300 tonnes of metal used to make the structure although when other elements of the structure are taken into account the total moves nearer to 10,000 tonnes. Rather bizarrely, due to thermal heating, the side of the tower which faces the sun at any point of the day has been known to move up to 18 cm away from the sun as the metal expands and pushes against the colder metal on the opposite side.
It has also been demonstrated that the weight of air in a cylinder built to the dimensions of the Eiffel Tower, i.e. 324 m high by 88.3 m in radius, would weigh 10,265 tonnes against the 10,100 tonnes which the Eiffel Tower actually weighs. There are many rumours regarding why the Eiffel Tower is shaped as it is although paperwork from Gustave Eiffel shows that he created and designed the shape of the Eiffel Tower after taking into account potential wind resistance and the safety of the structure.
While it took two years to build the structure, the Eiffel Tower was only supposed to be in existence for 20 years after which time the authorities planned to dismantle and meltdown the materials used in the structure. Quite why the structure was never demolished has never been truly explained although even in 1889 it quickly became something of a tourist attraction and unique selling point for Paris.
Even though the structure looks black in colour from a distance it is actually dark brown in colour and uses between 50 and 60 tonnes of paint every seven years. There are also 352 projectors of 1000 W each which light up the tower in the dark skies and visibility is in the region of 42 miles on a clear day. However, on a windy day the tower itself can sway between 12 cm and 15 cm which can be a very uncomfortable experience for those at the very top of the tower.
The tower itself is nearly 1000 feet high and the base is a 412 feet square which is around about 2.5 acres. Set well away from any other buildings, access to Eiffel Tower is very easy and while there are lifts for the first two floors, visitors are able to walk around 700 steps from the ground to the second floor. While the first two floors are also accessible by an elevator the third floor does not offer the option for visitors to walk the distance and is only accessible by the elevator.
Since the beginning of the 20th century the Eiffel Tower has been host to a number of radio transmitters and is still something of a communications centre for the area.
Bizarre facts about the Eiffel Tower
Thomas Edison visited the tower in September 1889 and left a message of congratulations for “M Eiffel”.
In February 1912 Austrian Franz Reichelt attempted to jump off the first floor of the tower using his home-made parachute to glide to the ground. Unfortunately during the 60 m drop his parachute failed to open and he died on impact.
1925 saw con artist Victor Lustig “sell” the tower for scrap metal on the first of two occasions.
Between 1925 and 1934, three sides of the Tower accommodated advertising space for Citroen which made it the world’s tallest advertising structure at the time.
During world War two it is rumoured that French authorities dismantled the tower’s lifts so that Adolf Hitler would need to walk to the top if he wanted to conquer the Eiffel Tower. As it happened he remained firmly on the ground although as the Allies descended upon Paris, Hitler ordered the tower to be demolished but thankfully this order was disobeyed.
In 1957 the current radio antenna was added to the top of the Eiffel Tower where it remains to this day.
The Eiffel Tower has featured heavily in at least two James Bond movies although there have been many more cameo appearances in a variety of movies throughout the years.
Having attracted over 200 million visitors since it was built the Eiffel Tower is by far and away the most popular paid tourist attraction in the world.
The Eiffel Tower has played host to a number of fires over the years although nothing has been able to ruin the centrepiece of Paris and perhaps the most recognised structure in the world.