The secrets hidden by the Eiffel Tower

Paris wouldn't be Paris without the Eiffel Tower, the imposing structure that Gustave Eiffel built in just two years, two months, and five days to become the symbol of the 1889 Universal Exposition.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
14 May 2024 Tuesday 22:58
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The secrets hidden by the Eiffel Tower

Paris wouldn't be Paris without the Eiffel Tower, the imposing structure that Gustave Eiffel built in just two years, two months, and five days to become the symbol of the 1889 Universal Exposition. It ended up becoming the great icon of the French capital and even the entire country.

Coinciding with the opening of the great event, then called the 300-meter Tower, welcomed its first visitors. It was on May 15, 1889. The excited public faced a challenge: the elevators were not yet working, so they had to climb the 1710 steps of what was then the tallest building in the world. The success was overwhelming. During the first week, around 30,000 people climbed to the top.

135 years provide for many stories and a few secrets. Perhaps the most significant is the approximately 100-square-meter apartment that the engineer had built at 285 meters above the ground. It lacked nothing: a piano, table, sofa, kitchen, sink, and three offices. However, there was no bed. The engineer mainly used it for his scientific experiments and to receive visitors, such as Edison or Buffalo Bill.

Another detail that Eiffel incorporated into his great work is a frieze that surrounds the first floor of the tower with the names of 72 sages, written in golden capital letters, 60 centimeters high so they could be read from the ground. For much of the 20th century, these names were covered with paint and were not restored until the 1980s.

The Eiffel Tower, which was originally painted red, had its days numbered. After 20 years, it was supposed to be dismantled. For this reason, Eiffel hurried to give it several uses taking advantage of its height, those impressive 300 meters: from scientific experiments or meteorological studies to the first tests of wireless telegraphy. In 1989, a first transmitting station was installed. The first of many. And, in fact, thanks to the antennas, the tower has been growing to reach 330 meters today.

During the wars, radio stations also played a relevant role. In the Great War, thanks to the radio stations, important enemy radiograms were deciphered, which allowed the unmasking of spies, including Mata Hari.

During World War II, a bunker was set up under one of the pillars and the elevators were disabled to prevent Hitler from accessing the top of the tower during his visit to the city.

But for many, its great secret is how an iron structure with an expiration date continues to look so perfect. And the answer lies in its constant maintenance. Every seven years, the paint is scraped off, the surface is thoroughly cleaned, and a new coat is applied. This involves a year and a half of work and 60 tons of paint. All for a good cause: to keep Paris as Paris with that Eiffel Tower that has dominated its skyline for 135 years.