Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Happy Birthday, Eiffel Tower

I’ll never forget my first vision of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. My wife and I had just flown into the city from London, and we were staying at a wonderful little hotel in the exuberant Rue Cler district, known for its many shops and cafés. The first thing I did after dropping our bags down on the bed was to look out the streetside windows. Over the flowers in the planter box, what did I see, but Gustave Eiffel’s monumental erection! ’Twas a magical sight, for sure, one that I would relish every day for the next week, as we toured the City of Light and nearby Versailles. The photograph at right was shot from our bedroom window.

Well, it turns out that today is 120th anniversary of that tower’s official opening. Here’s a bit of background from Wikipedia:
The structure was built between 1887 and 1889 as the entrance arch for the Exposition Universelle, a world’s fair marking the centennial celebration of the French Revolution. Eiffel originally planned to build the tower in Barcelona, for the Universal Exposition of 1888, but those responsible at the Barcelona city hall thought it was a strange and expensive construction, which did not fit into the design of the city. After the refusal of the Consistory of Barcelona, Eiffel submitted his draft to those responsible for the Universal Exhibition in Paris, where he would build his tower a year later, in 1889. The tower was inaugurated on 31 March 1889, and opened on 6 May. Three hundred workers joined together 18,038 pieces of puddled iron (a very pure form of structural iron), using two and a half million rivets, in a structural design by Maurice Koechlin. The risk of accident was great, for unlike modern skyscrapers the tower is an open frame without any intermediate floors except the two platforms. However, because Eiffel took safety precautions, including the use of movable stagings, guard-rails and screens, only one man died.

The tower was met with much criticism from the public when it was built, with many calling it an eyesore. Newspapers of the day were filled with angry letters from the arts community of Paris. One is quoted extensively in William Watson’s U.S. Government Printing Office publication of 1892 Paris Universal Exposition: Civil Engineering, Public Works, and Architecture. “And during twenty years we shall see, stretching over the entire city, still thrilling with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see stretching out like a black blot the odious shadow of the odious column built up of riveted iron plates.”
Far from being thought of as “an odious column,” the Eiffel Tower is now one of the most recognizable and beloved edifices in the world. Climbing to 1,063 feet, it remains the tallest structure in Paris and the fifth-tallest in France.

Below are a couple of wonderful vintage shots from the Paris Exposition of 1900, when the city again played host to the world and the Eiffel Tower drew more appreciative crowds.

You can find more early Eiffel Tower photographs here and here.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I never expected to be so swept away by this structure. One of the "great" surprises of my life.