“Being the most striking manifestation of the art of metal structures by which our engineers have shown in Europe, it is one of the most striking of our modern national genius.” – Gustave Eiffel
It’s the home of kings, emperors, and aristocrats, and the home of the Champs-Élysées, the Bastille, the Louvre and the salons that fueled the Enlightenment. For foreigners like Benjamin Franklin, it was the most beautiful city in the world, and millions of people still visit those same sites every year. Known as the “City of Light,” Paris seamlessly blends its rich past with all the trappings of a modern city, and the city’s features and qualities are taken for granted today, but Paris was not always that way. In fact, it took nearly half a century of redesigning the city during the 19th century to transform it into the city it is today.
Though it may be hard to believe today, the Eiffel Tower was initially met with derision by many Frenchmen, some of whom compared it to the Tower of Babel and complained that the “useless and monstrous” structure would obscure treasures such as Notre Dame. In response to such criticisms, Eiffel himself pointed out, “Can one think that because we are engineers, beauty does not preoccupy us or that we do not try to build beautiful, as well as solid and long lasting structures? Aren’t the genuine functions of strength always in keeping with unwritten conditions of harmony? Besides, there is an attraction, a special charm in the colossal to which ordinary theories of art do not apply.”
It’s safe to say that Eiffel was correct. Each year, millions of people refute those original notions by riding to the top and making it the most visited paid monument in the entire world. Indeed, the Eiffel Tower has welcomed over 250 million visitors in less than 130 years. Eiffel had the good fortune of being vindicated in his lifetime, and as he once joked, “I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am.”