As an American, I see the Eiffel Tower everywhere.
Even in America.
I think it's probably as equal in popularity as our own Statue of Liberty or Hollywood sign as far as pop culture symbols go.
In every movie and television show which visits Paris, or anywhere in France for that matter, the Eiffel Tower makes at least a quick cameo. It's not just France either, I suppose. When anyone visits anywhere in Europe, it usually isn't the Tower of Pisa or Big Ben or even the Coliseum that is publicized. Almost always, it's this gorgeous Iron Lady.
We live in a world where each big city is usually defined by one particular icon, and it's quite possible that the Tour Eiffel was just so beautiful and original, it kicked off the trend. It doesn't surprise me that every other city in the world wanted something this monumental. Whether France wanted competition or not, many have tried to make something as alluring as the Grande Dame herself, but it is truly hard to compare.
Construction on the tower began in 1887 for the purpose of being the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair. Back then, the World's Fair was basically an exhibition of all things technological. It gave a chance for countries all over the world to show off and trade industrialized inventions and innovations. Although steel was the up and coming metal at the time for engineers, Gustav Eiffel stuck to his guns and used very pure wrought iron instead. For one, wrought iron is extremely strong. For two, it is much lighter than steel, so dismantling of the tower after the finish of the fair would be much easier.
This cutting edge tower was to be the tallest and most magnificent in the world, beating out the Washington Monument and the Cologne Cathedral for the title. But this structure wasn't to salute a leader or give thanks to God, this tower was strictly a tourist attraction.
The idea caught some slack at first by a group of cranky artists who wanted to rage against the machine. They completely hated the concept of this giant metal erection bombarding their skyline. But eventually, they were overruled and construction marched forward.
This particular World's Fair happened to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. France wanted to show the World that it was now the most contemporary, most advanced, and that it was the best.
But, it didn't want to spend a lot of money in the process.
Mr. Eiffel (businessman extraordinaire) was so confident in the tower devised by his engineering team, he told the French government that if they would pay him just a small commission to build it, and give him a promise of at least 20 years to make his money back, he would raise the funds of the construction on his own. Every last dime.
And although they laughed him off the Champ de Mars, they agreed.
So because he paid for it outright selling stocks to investors, every penny that was brought in by it went straight to his pockets.
Any guesses of how long it took to make his money back? 5 years? 10 years?
Oh, no, no.
It took only 6 months.
Who do you think was laughing now? Ol' Mr. Eiffel found himself to be a very rich man.
I'm telling you, when our cab driver turned the corner and I laid eyes on the tower up close for the first time, I almost cried. The way it takes command of the skyline is a hard concept to grasp unless you're there to see it for yourself, but it is impressive and absolute. To say the least.
I know it's rude to kiss and tell, but here's a view I took right up her skirt.
There are thousands of skyscrapers in the world today, but the way this one was built with the wide base, the very narrow tip and the intricate lattice wrought iron work it is very stable against attacks from the wind. It doesn't blow it over, it just moves right through it.
Just like we did with the Palace of Versailles, our group had purchased "skip the line" tickets prior to our visit. I don't even know how long it would have taken to get in. Hours I'm sure. But when they say "skip the line," they really mean it. Of course, we had to enter through a metal detector and security guarded entrance, but there wasn't anyone ahead of us or behind us. We were like VIPs and our tickets were specifically timed for sunset. It just can't be beat.
This was our tour guide but her name escapes me. She was the cutest little thing from Ireland and she was in Paris paying her way through a study abroad program (the Iron Lady?! What a broad to study!!) She knew so much information in that head of hers, I could barely keep up. She was awesome and truly made our trip even more amazing.
The view of the green space called Champs de Mars is on the Northwest side of the tower. The wide flat building at the end of the green, the Ecole Militaire, is the military school in Paris and was attended by Napoleon Bonaparte himself. The Champs de Mars was originally made for practicing military drills and was later used for all of the Paris hosted World Fairs.
The lonely skyscraper in the background is the Montparnasse Tower. It was built in the late 60s and early 70s as the beginning of what would have been a skyline to rival New York City's. It was the tallest cloud toucher in France. But as soon as it was completed, Parisians threw such a giant temper tantrum, there was an immediate law passed saying that no building could ever be built over 7 stories within city limits. Sadly, I do have to agree with the Parisians, it looks completely out of place.
There is a restaurant on the very top of Montparnasse, and I hear it thinks itself as the most beautiful view in Paris. Probably because it can't see itself.
In 2008 it was voted the second ugliest building in the world. Because the Eiffel Tower was constructed elsewhere and then put together on site, perhaps it was the original IKEA furniture and Montparnasse was the box it came out of.
The opposite Southeast side of the Tower you can see the Trocadero, site of the Palais de Chaillot. I don't know a lot about it other than it has an amazing view of the tower from the steps and that there is an outstanding creperie stand to the left of the fountain where you can get the best Nutella crepes on the planet. I'm not sure where I was when she was explaining this place to us, but I missed the memo. I know this is where the battle of Trocadero was won from Spain, that now there is a gorgeous garden out front, and that the fountain smells just as bad as the ones in Versailles.
Other than that, I know it's super pretty.
Those are skyscrapers in the background but they are technically outside city limits so they can get away with being there.
As the sun started to set, you could see the gold starting to drape across the entire city. One of the best sights from the top is of the golden Dome des Invalides. It it one of 7 buildings in a complex of historical military buildings and serves as a hospital and nursing home for war veterans. It also houses Napoleon's tomb along with other French military heroes.
It had been cloudy all afternoon, so we all assumed we would miss the sunset we were promised. But literally 10 minutes before the sun started sinking, the entire sky cleared up like a genie had snapped her fingers and wished it for us. Unbelievable.
The view from up there was like being in heaven. Looking down on every beautiful building we had seen and learned about during our short visit was like a dream. To see them all at once, with the light of the sun in front, and the glow of the moon in the back was indescribable. I didn't know if I should laugh, cry or just do nothing.
So I just did nothing.
And make pictures.
At this point we had only taken the elevator to the second floor. We did make it to the top eventually, but I didn't stay very long. I did it so I could say I did it. But really, I had seen what I needed to see.
Even the Arc de Triomphe was dressed up in his finest glow.
On New Years Eve 1999, the Eiffel Tower hosted a millennium party that would have impressed the gods. 20,000 flashing lights were placed up and down the iron lattice and fireworks were set off all over the building. After the celebration was over, the city decided to keep the lights up and they're now set to go off on the hour from 10pm- midnight. We happened to be on the second floor at 10 pm when they went off, so I leaned over backwards as far as my little torso would let me and I grabbed this 10 second clip before my brain screamed at me to keep both feet on the ground!
Says Roland Barthes about the tower: "it will be there, connecting me above Paris to each of my friends that I know are seeing it."
I agree with that. It's sort of like Paris' personal little moon. And we all know how I feel about the moon...