With more than 6.7 million visitors every year, the Tour Eiffel is possibly the most popular landmark in Paris. As you stand underneath and gaze at the enormous structure, or look across the Palais de Chaillot that passes below the tower to the Champ de Mars and the Ecole Militaire on the other side, the Tour Eiffel’s pre-eminence becomes evident. The tower was built for the Exposition Universelle of 1889, and was considered by many to be an apt monument to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution. Erected in an amazingly short time, the tower – the tallest structure in the world at that time – took just over two years to build, with 300 workers putting in long hours from January 1887 to March 1889.
Over 5,000 drawings were created from the design of Gustave Eiffel, a widely respected and prolific builder of cast-iron structures, who won a competition for the best design. His other works include churches, viaducts and bridges around the world. The Tour Eiffel, one of his most challenging creations, was never intended to be a permanent structure. At the time, it drew widespread criticism, with many claiming that not only did it spoil the skyline of the city but was potentially unsafe. It was almost pulled down at one point, but by 1910 it had become so widely accepted and loved that it was given a new lease of life. Confirming Gustave’s claims of safety, the tower was proved to sway just 6.7cm (2.6 inches). The lattice pattern of ironwork was designed to enable the tower to withstand strong winds. The structure is an astonishing feat of engineering. It is 125m (410 feet) at its widest point, and 324m (1,063 feet) high, with a series of three platforms to break the long trek of 1,665 steps to the top, although lifts make for an easier and quicker journey. It has more than 18,000 individual metal parts, weighs 10,000 tonnes in total, and comprises 2.5 million rivets. It takes no less than 60 tonnes of paint to redecorate it, which takes place every seven to ten years.
A total of 20,000 light bulbs illuminate the tower for 10 minutes at the beginning of every hour, with spotlights on the ground capturing its latticework structure. A lighted beacon rotates at its highest point. A visit to the top provides a panoramic view of the city, and on a clear day you can see to a distance of over 60km (37 miles). However, be prepared for queues for the lifts as most visitors prefer not to walk up all those steps. A good tip is to take the steps to the first floor and hop on to the elevator at this point, or go after dark when there are fewer people about. The view of Paris at night from its base is one that will remain in your memory, and is an experience that probably eclipses a daylight view. There is a restaurant on the second level where you can have a meal while enjoying the views. A museum on the first level records the history of the tower, including information on famous people who have visited it.