It is impossible to imagine the Paris skyline without the Eiffel Tower. Yet the iconic structure, which was built in 1889 to commemorate 100 years of the French Revolution, was supposed to be dismantled 20 years later when its permit expired. Luckily, it was allowed to remain, and this year one of the the most visited monuments in the world celebrates its 126th anniversary.
At 1,063 feet (324 metres), the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world when it was built. It held this record until 1930, when the Chrysler Building in New York City dethroned it.
Incredibly complicated machinery and a dedicated team keep the deceptively simple-looking tower running. From a control room in the tower’s north foot, staff keep a watchful eye on the grounds, the tourists, and even the wind speed. The tower’s summit is closed when the wind reaches 80 kilometres per hour.
The tower’s designer Gustave Eiffel came up with practical uses to ensure that the tower was not pulled down. He set up a laboratory to study weather and encouraged scientists to conduct astronomical investigations. He later had a powerful radio installed and invited the French military to use it. In the end, that saved the tower.
The Eiffel Tower has weathered the two World Wars. During WWI, not only did its transmitter jam German communications, its radio telegraphers intercepted Mata Hari’s messages, which led to her capture. In 1944, Hitler ordered that the tower be destroyed but the Nazi military governor of Paris chose to disobey him.
In a letter to the commissioner of the Exposition Universelle, the fair for which the tower was built, Parisian intelligentsia roundly denounced the Eiffel Tower as a “hideous blot”. They tried hard to derail the project, and went as far as to say that “not even commercial America would have it”.
Weighing in at 7,300 tonnes, the metal structure is no lightweight. Some 2.5 million rivets, all of them as old as the tower itself, hold the latticed structure together.
The tower is the target of several bomb threats every year. In 2013, it was evacuated three times due to hoaxes.
To take the elevator up the tower without spending time in snaking queues, book tickets online (www.toureiffel.paris). The official guide app for smartphones has an audio tour, and high-resolution panoramas that can help visitors identify 70 famous buildings they spot from the top.
Appeared as in the April 2014 issue as “Vive La Tour Eiffel!”.
is a Mumbai-based travel and food writer who is obsessed with coffee and all things Italian. She tweets and instagrams as @delishdirection.
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