It may be an icon of Paris, but the history of the Eiffel Tower is far from simple. It has been described as ridiculous to record-breaking, and has been home to secret apartments and tragic accidents.
These ten amazing facts about the Eiffel Tower will shed some light on the icon’s secret history on Eiffel Tower Day on March 31.
1. It was controversial
Contemporary critics initially called the design ‘monstrous’, ‘useless’, ‘ridiculous’ and a ‘despicable column of bolted sheet metal’ and an official petition was started to try to stop its construction. Some architects even thought that it was physically impossible to build a structure of such height.
2. It was originally designed as an entrance
Built for the 1889 World’s Fair, the tower was originally a monumental gateway like the Arc de Triomphe, as well as a centerpiece of the revolutionary new iron lattice architecture. It has since found a place in the hearts of Parisians – as well as proving useful as a communication tower – and has so far lasted 113 years beyond its planned dismantling date.
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3. It is painted in different colors
The Eiffel Tower is painted in three different shades of brown, the darkest at the top and the lightest at the bottom. The shading is meant to counteract the atmospheric haze and make the structure appear a uniform color from top to bottom. In previous lives, the tower was once painted bright red and yellow.
4. It shrinks in winter
Cold weather causes the tower metal to shrink, while heat causes it to expand. The difference in height of the Eiffel Tower can be up to 15 centimeters. And yes, the top of the tower can also sway in the wind.
5. There’s a (not so) secret apartment at the top
The architect Gustave Eiffel had his own apartment at the top of the tower to conduct experiments and receive distinguished guests. However, it was not designed for sleeping as there was no bed. After being locked up for years, the office has been recreated and is now open to the touring public.
6. Taking pictures of the tower at night is tricky
Although the design of the tower is in the public domain, the lighting display is copyrighted, meaning it is illegal to commercially distribute photographs of it. He is do not illegal, however, to take them, as is often reported. French law is still a bit murky when it comes to posting photos on, say, your Instagram feed, though.
7. It can be dangerous
The first floor of the Eiffel Tower has long been a magnet for daredevils. In 1912 Franz Reichelt jumped to his death from the platform while attempting to demonstrate a portable parachute, while in 1926 Léon Collot attempted to fly his plane under the arch of the first floor and crashed.
8. He has many imitators
The Eiffel Tower has spawned many replicas, including in Pakistan, Russia and Las Vegas, the first building to take inspiration from the structure was the Blackpool Tower. It was built five years after its French cousin, after the town mayor demanded something so grand on the Lancashire seaside.
9. It’s a Record
Like the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Empire State Building and the Burj Khalifa, the Eiffel Tower once claimed the distinction of being the tallest structure in the world – only to be surpassed by the Chrysler Building in 1930. However, in 1957, she overtook her former opponent in New York after the addition of radio masts. In March 2022, it rose again by six meters (20 ft) when a new radio antenna was installed at the summit from a helicopter. It now stands 330 meters in height after the new addition.
It is also the most visited paid tourist attraction in the world – more than 300 million people have climbed its dizzying heights since it opened, four times the population of France today.
10. He has a heart of glass
In 2014, the tower emerged from a major redevelopment to mark its 125th anniversary, the most impressive feature of which is a new glass platform on the first floor. Now visitors can tiptoe nervously while watching the giant queues below.
This article was first published on October 1, 2020 and updated on March 30, 2022