As one of the most visited cities in the world, Paris is continuously celebrated for the unique features that define it. In addition to love, light, and croissants, it is also renowned for the distinctive beauty of its buildings. From enchanting Art Nouveau entrances to its ethereal Gothic cathedrals, the capital city showcases French architecture at its finest—with, of course, the iconic Eiffel Tower at the forefront.
While most will recognize the Eiffel Tower (or La Tour Eiffel as they say in French) as the unofficial emblem of Paris, not many are aware of its unique history and controversial beginnings. Here, we explore the story behind the one-of-a-kind edifice that has stood tall over the city for over 125 years.
March 31, 1889
1,083 ft (330 m)
Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier
Why Was the Eiffel Tower Built?
Eiffel et Compagnie, a firm owned by French architect and engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923), designed and constructed the iron tower for the Exposition Universelle, or World's Fair, in 1889.
Selected from over 100 entries, the tower would act as the entrance to the event, where people from around the globe gathered to experience its avant-garde attractions, including everything from theatrical performances and musical shows to innovative inventions and scientific findings.
History of the Eiffel Tower
The basic design of the Eiffel Tower was introduced to Eiffel by Eiffel et Compagnie engineers Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier. They imagined “a great pylon, consisting of four lattice girders standing apart at the base and coming together at the top, joined together by metal trusses at regular intervals.”
This unprecedented aesthetic was depicted by Koechlin in an early sketch in 1884:
Eiffel agreed to build upon their vision. He worked with architect Stephen Sauvetre, civil engineer Émile Nouguier, and structural engineer Maurice Koechlin to envision a three-leveled, 1,063-foot (or 300 meters) tower made of wrought iron.
In addition to showcasing his engineering skills, Eiffel intended to commemorate the French Revolution with his tower, as the World's Fair would fall 100 years after its onset. Thus, to Eiffel, the edifice was much more than an entrance; it was “an expression of France's gratitude.” In fact, the Eiffel Tower is still used as a focal point for celebrations on Bastille Day (July 14) and New Year's Eve.
While Eiffel's design for the fair was given the go-ahead, some members of the public were not on-board with his unprecedented design. Fearing that the line between art and engineering was in danger of being blurred, a protest group featuring architects, artists, composers, writers, and other “passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris” formed. They wrote and filed a petition (aptly named Protestation des artistes contre la tour de Monsieur Eiffel, or “Protest Against the Tower of Mr. Eiffel”) in February of 1887, but were too late—construction had already begun in January.
The tower opened to the public in May of 1889, a few days after the debut of the Exposition Universelle. As its elevators were not in service until the end of the month, visitors had to use the stairs, ultimately climbing 1,710 steps to reach the top of the tower. Given the monument's fascinating aesthetic and spectacular vantage point, however, 30,000 people happily made the elevator-free ascent!
How the Eiffel Tower Became an Official Landmark
Originally, the Eiffel Tower was intended as a temporary installation that would be demolished after 20 years. However, hoping to save his creation, Eiffel suggested the tower be used as a radiotelegraph station. Fortunately, his pitch worked, and the tower was saved from destruction, becoming a permanent fixture in the city of Paris.
Today, the Eiffel Tower is the most visited paid monument in the world, attracting over 7 million annual sightseers. It remains the tallest structure in the City of Lights and continues to captivate tourists and locals alike with its striking, sky-high silhouette which can be seen from all around the 7th arrondissement and along boats passing by on the Seine.
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