Paris has been immortalized in literature, film, visual art of all shapes, sizes and mediums, and with good reason. Dating back to medieval times, the city served as the head of a powerful monarchy, the center of religious and political turmoil, and as a haven for immigrants from all over the world. This lore of the city of light that turns to magic in the rain and at midnight—as Woody Allen and so many others show and tell us—has captured the imagination and fancy of the world and each year, millions of tourists realize their dream.
But what does it mean to live in a city that sees over 70 million tourists a year?
Well, it means there are a lot of people. They come and go, probably without speaking more than a few words of French, they take pictures of everything, all the time and they are probably a little loud. But it also means that you live next to buildings and monuments that other people traverse continents and oceans to visit. It means your life is enveloped in a history and beauty you cannot get from a picture or even a single view in person. The city is literally a living time capsule and you get to experience a slice of it every single day.
Clearly the sheen of romance has not worn off for me, and although I have days when I make like a Parisian and walk by renowned architecture and historically important monuments like it’s just your average cathedral or medieval castle, I am always humbled with a view of the Eiffel Tower on the horizon. As the premier symbol of Paris known to the foreign world, there is nothing like that century-old iron structure to remind you that yes, this is real life.
So, in honor of this icon’s 124th inaugural anniversary—coming up on March 31st—this week’s column is dedicated to la Tour Eiffel.
The Eiffel Tower was built for the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889 and was scheduled to be demolished after the exhibition but remained such a popular attraction that Paris just decided to keep it. The Tower was named after its architect Alexandre Gustave Eiffel and it has been used to discover cosmic rays, to measure the longitudinal difference between Paris and Washington D.C., to advertise Citroen cars, to protest Hitler’s occupation and to host Paris’ Millennium celebrations. It has been featured in numerous famous paintings, photographs, and films including the Bond film A View to Kill, in which Bond Girl Grace Jones parachutes from the top.
During World War II, the Eiffel Tower played a large part due to its growing iconoclasm. As a symbol of his triumph over Paris, Hitler planned to mount the tower to exert his power over the city. To protest the impending invasion, the French cut the lift wires so that Hitler would have to walk to the top. At the end of the war as the Allies approached, Hitler ordered the city, starting with the tower, destroyed, but he was denied and, as the world sees every day, the Eiffel Tower outlasted even a siege.
The epitome of Parisian iconoclasm, this monument to innovation has weathered fires and occupations to rest as an international treasure. And it even sparkles.