The Eiffel Tower, a wrought iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, was constructed by the organizers of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, as the gorgeous entrance to the World’s Fair. The intention of the 1889 fair was to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. To entrust the responsibility of the construction, an open competition was arranged for the designing of a spectacular centerpiece and among 107 contestants, the proposal submitted by Eiffel et Compagnie, a consulting and construction firm owned by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, was selected. Several years earlier, this Gustave Eiffel and a structural engineer named Maurice Koechlin, had collaborated in the construction of the iron framework of the famous Statue of Liberty in New York.
Work on the foundations of the tower started on 28 January 1887 and the main structural work was completed on 31March 1889. Its construction took two years, two months and five days, which is 180 years less than Paris's other great attraction, Notre Dame, the famous medieval Catholic Cathedral.
The colossal tower is 1.063 feet (324m) tall, weighs 10,100 tons and its base is square, measuring 410 ft (125 m) on each side. Its 18,000 metallic parts are joined together by 2.5 million rivets and it is observed that during cold season the tower shrinks by about six inches. During its construction, the tower surpassed the Washington Monument and was the world's tallest structure when completed in 1889, a distinction it retained for 41 years, till the Chrysler BuildinginNew York was finished in 1930. However, due to the subsequent addition of the broadcasting aerialat the top of the tower in 1957, it is now taller than the Chrysler Building by 17 feet (5.2 m). Without the transmitters, the Eiffel Tower is thesecond tallest structure in France after the Millau Viaduct, the cable-stayed bridge that spans the gorge valley of the River Tarn near Millau in southern France.
At the inaugural ceremony of the magnificent metallic structure, Gustave Eiffel took the lead of a group of government officials, and the selected representatives of the press, to the top of the tower. But, since the lifts were not yet in operation, few finally ventured to negotiate the 1,710 steps to make it to the top. Most of the party chose to stop at the lower levels, while Eiffel, along with the structural engineer, the President of the City Council, and the reporters from ‘Le Figaro’ and ‘Le Monde Illustre’, completed the ascent. To add the final touch in the celebration, Eiffel unfurled a French tricolor flag from the pinnacle of the tower at 2:35 pm, accompanied by a 25-gun salute fired at the first level.
Though the tower was not opened to the public until nine days after the opening of the exposition on 6 May, it was an instant success, as nearly 30,000 visitors climbed to the top, even before the lifts entered service on 26 May.
Today, three levels of the tower, equipped with restaurants on the first and second levels, are open for the public. The upper platform in the top level is 906 ft (276m) above the ground. The second level houses an office of the French newspaper‘Le Figaro’and a printing press. At the top level, there was a post office, from where visitors could send letters and postcards to their friends and family, as a memento of their visit.
The Eiffel Tower was originally permitted to stand on its feet for 20 years and was destined to be dismantled and scrapped in 1909. But, as it was proved to be valuable for wireless communication purposes, it was allowed to remain after the expiry of the permitted period.
Several years later, during the World War I, it proved its worth, when it intercepted and jammed the German radio signals and relayed zeppelin alerts. It again averted its end for the second time during WWII. During the month of August 1944, as theAllies were rapidly approaching Paris, Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, to demolish the tower, but the command was never carried out. Before that, during the German occupation of Paris in 1940, the French resistance fighters cut the tower’s elevator cables to make it hard for the Germans to go to the top. Actually, the German soldiers had to negotiate the long stairway of the tower to hoist a swastika-centered Reichskriegsflagge on the top. The flag was so large that it blew away just a few hours later and was replaced by a smaller one. Nevertheless, before the Germans had been driven out of Paris, their flag was replaced on 25th June, with a French Tricolour. Since the days of occupation, the tower was closed to the public and the lifts were not repaired until 1946.
In the beginning the Eiffel Tower sported a reddish-brown color and after a decade the shade changed to yellow. It also turned to yellow-brown and chestnut brown before being painted with the specially mixed ‘Eiffel Tower Brown’ in 1968. Today, every seven years, the painters apply 60 tons of paint to the tower in three shades, progressively lighter with the elevation, in order to make it prominent against the vast canvas of the Parisian sky.
The Eiffel Tower was initially criticized by some of France's leading artists and intellectuals for its unusual design. Many Parisians either feared it was structurally unsound or considered it an eyesore and totally inconsistent with the classical architecture of Paris.But, today the Eiffel Tower is considered as an architectural wonder and with almost seven million visitors per year, it can easily boast as the most-visited paid monument in the world. Today, It has become a cultural iconof France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.
There are a number of replicas of the Eiffel Tower around the world, including one in Las Vegas and one at the Window of the World theme park in Shenzhen, China.