8 Things You Never Knew About the Eiffel Tower

Editorial Feature

By Google Arts & Culture

Bassin de la tour Eiffel - Exposition universelle de 1889 by © Parisienne de photographie - Neurdein/ Roger-ViolletEiffel Tower

Fun facts about the world’s most recognized tower

As the central symbol of one of the world’s greatest cities, the Eiffel Tower is instantly recognizable around the globe.

Yet there’s a lot more to Paris’ premier landmark than meets the eye.
This lofty iron construction has a fascinating past, playing a central role in strange tales of love, death, science, and war.

Here are 8 things you never knew about this distinguishable French icon.

It should have stood in Barcelona

Gustave Eiffel originally submitted his design to Barcelona, but the city turned it down for aesthetic reasons. The architect had more success in pitching the project to Paris, although his plan was far from popular at the time.

In fact, some 300 prominent intellectuals and artists publicly decried the monument, declaring it an eyesore that would ruin the atmosphere of their elegant city.

Bassin de la tour Eiffel - Exposition universelle de 1889, © Parisienne de photographie - Neurdein/ Roger-Viollet (From the collection of Eiffel Tower)

Parisians eventually grew to love the tower, which is estimated to be worth an eye-watering US$500 billion today. Partly thanks to Eiffel, Paris now consistently ranks among the most visited destinations in the world.

It was meant to be taken down in 1909

It’s hard to imagine a Parisian skyline without the Eiffel Tower looming overhead. Yet despite its current fame, the tower was never intended to become a permanent fixture of the City of Love.

After winning a prestigious architectural design competition, Gustave Eiffel’s Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel engineering company set about constructing the tower in 1887. Work was completed two years later, just in time for the Paris Universal Exposition.

However, competition rules stipulated the tower would only stand for 20 years before being disassembled and sold for scrap.

Travaux de construction de la tour Eiffel - Poutrelles de base d'un pilier - Juillet 1887 by © Parisienne de photographie - Jacques Boyer / Roger-ViolletEiffel Tower

Travaux de construction de la tour Eiffel - Poutrelles de base d'un pilier - Juillet 1887, © Parisienne de photographie - Jacques Boyer / Roger-Viollet (From the collection of Eiffel Tower)

A scientific research site was its savior

In the face of criticism over its aesthetics, Gustave Eiffel knew the French government would follow through on their plan to dismantle the tower. He had to find a viable reason to convince them his beloved project should stay.

Eiffel collaborated with the most celebrated scientists from France and around the world to repurpose the tower for things like meteorological observations and physics experiments. However, it was its valuable communication and broadcasting applications, especially the first successful wireless telegram tests, which would ultimately allow it to remain.

Eiffel Tower (1982 - 1982) by Antonio SeguíMAC-Lima

Eiffel Tower, Antonio Segui, 1982 - 1982 (From the collection of MAC-Lima)

It was used as a radio tower in WWI

The decision to keep the Eiffel Tower standing after its initial 20-year period paid off just a few years later with the outbreak of World War One. The French military was able to use the wireless station to intercept Nazi communications on several occasions.

In 1914, they discovered the Germans were postponing their advance which allowed them to organize a successful counter-attack in the Battle of Maine. Later, they learned valuable information about Operative H-21 by intercepting coded messages between Germany and Spain. This led to the capture of the Dutch exotic dancer and spy, Mata Hari.

By William VandivertLIFE Photo Collection

William Vandivert, 1939-07 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

Someone married it

Given its burly stature and snazzy old-world charm, it’s hardly surprising the Eiffel Tower would appeal to an “objectum sexual” – someone attracted to inanimate objects. One such person, American ex-soldier Erika La Tour, was lucky enough to marry the giant structure in a private ceremony back in 2007.

The Eiffel Tower isn’t Erica’s first inanimate affair. She maintained a 20-year relationship with the Berlin Wall and had a fling with a compound bow which would later help her become a world archery champion.

It’s illegal to photograph it at night

Welcoming over 7 million visitors each year, the Eiffel Tower must be among the most photographed monuments on Earth. But did you know this seemingly harmless practice is strictly illegal between dusk and dawn?

Although architectural structures fall within the public domain, EU law considers the 20,000 bulbs that light up the tower at night a copyright protected work of art. Therefore, photographers must obtain permission before snapping a night-time pic and/or sharing one through social media.

The Parisians (1963) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

The Parisians, Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1963 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

It has been painted numerous different colors over the years

Due to its construction from a material called puddle iron, the Eiffel Tower must be regularly repainted to prevent it from rusting. As a result, the tower has taken on numerous different color schemes over the years.

Examples include Venetian red, reddish brown, several shades of yellow, a brownish red, and a bronzy brown, which is still used today for its harmony with the Parisian skyline.

Projet de Stephen Sauvestre d'aménagement de la Tour Eiffel pour l'exposition de 1900 - Collection tour Eiffel by Collection tour Eiffel - SETEEiffel Tower

Projet de Stephen Sauvestre d'aménagement de la Tour Eiffel pour l'exposition de 1900 - Collection tour Eiffel, Collection tour Eiffel - SETE (From the collection of Eiffel Tower)

The tower gets a fresh layer every seven years from a team of 25 specialist workers who apply a whopping 60 tons of paint.

A flying tailor leapt to his death off it, by accident

Aviation mania was in full swing around the turn of the 20th century. Hot air balloons, zeppelins, and airplanes had already taken to the sky, and the race was on to develop a functional low altitude parachute.

Partly inspired by a 10,000 Franc government reward, American tailor and inventor Franz Reichelt set about designing a parachute suit. Upon completion in 1910, he boldly decided to test it on himself from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Unfortunately for poor old Franz, his contraption failed, and he plummeted to his death, much to the horror of onlookers below.

Eiffel Tower (1914/1918)National WWI Museum and Memorial

Eiffel Tower, 1914/1918 (From the collectio of National WWI Museum and Memorial)

Much more than just a tourist attraction, the Eiffel Tower has become a fundamental pillar of French identity over the years. And despite its unconventional and outright unusual past, it remains a celebrated icon to this day.

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