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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Eyeing the Eiffel

18,038 pieces of iron went into the making of this iconic structure. We present seven views of the tower that made France famous.

Written by Lindsay Pereira | Published: February 8, 2009 12:02:54 pm

18,038 pieces of iron went into the making of this iconic structure. We present seven views of the tower that made France famous.

The world’s tallest tower held that title from 1889 — the year it was finally finished — to 1930,when the Chrysler Building decided to pop its head up in New York. The funny thing is the Eiffel wasn’t even supposed to be around that long. It had a 20-year permit and was to be dismantled by 1909. Its height came to its aid though,making it perfect for communication purposes. By the time two decades had rolled past,people were more than used to seeing it standing tall,so it was allowed to stay.

Hitler may have wreaked havoc across Europe,but he couldn’t conquer the Eiffel Tower. When the Nazis occupied Paris in 1940,the tower’s lift cables were cut by the French. This meant Hitler would have to climb to the summit. While German soldiers climbed to hoist the swastika,Hitler chose to stay on the ground. It must have annoyed the dictator immensely. Four years later,when the allies were nearing Paris,Hitler ordered the military governor to demolish the city as well as the tower. The governor disobeyed.

If engineer Gustave Eiffel had his way,the Eiffel would have been in Barcelona,not Paris. He wanted it built in the former city for the Universal Exposition fair of 1888,but the city’s officials considered it a strange construction—besides, an expensive one — that didn’t quite gel with the way Barcelona was built. So,Eiffel sent his draft to the people responsible for the Universal Exhibition in Paris instead. We’re assuming they warmed to the idea.

The Eiffel stands tall at 1,052 feet and weighs 7,000 tonnes. It consumes 50 tonnes of dark brown paint every seven years. The maximum it sways in a strong wind is 12 centimetres. It took two years,two months and five days — (1887 to 1889) —to be constructed. It takes 25 lakh rivets to keep the structure in place. On the tower are engraved the names of 72 French engineers and scientists.

The funny thing about Hollywood movies is every one of them set in France depicts images of the Eiffel from windows across Paris. Tourists assume that the tower is visible from any point in the city. The truth is,thanks to zoning restrictions in Paris,most buildings are restricted to seven stories. So,only a small number of taller buildings have a clear view of the Eiffel. On a clear day,it is visible for 67 kilometres.

Considering how proud the French now are of the tower,it’s hard to imagine how much they hated it when it first sprang up. Citizens across the country wrote letters of complaint to newspapers,calling the Eiffel an ‘eyesore’. One letter—signed by heavyweights like academic painter Bouguereau and writer Alexandre Dumas,among others—cribbed about ‘the odious shadow of the column built up of riveted iron plates’. And yet,by 1996,167,664,439 people had lined up to see the odious column.

No one’s sure if this is an apocryphal story but,during World War I,parrots were allegedly kept on the tower to warn the French of approaching aircraft. Apparently,parrots could hear aircraft before human spotters could,so their presence was welcomed. They were stripped of all feathers though,to prevent them from taking off. Speaking of birds,pigeons also played an important role during the war. More than one lakh birds were used to send messages,with a success rate of 95 per cent!

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