France is one of, if not the, most popular countries in the world for tourism. It makes sense. The area is steeped in history and with that a very unique culture and one that provides the basis for a lot of the Western World today. The level of appreciation of the arts here is insurmountable. The architecture breathtaking.
It’s dear capital Paris upholds this reputation, producing monument after monument, museums upon museums and a prestige like no other. It’s impossible to separate one from the other in terms of quality, significance and awe-inspiring beauty.
Yet it has been done. One landmark has become more recognised and more revered than it’s prestigious counterparts. It’s the symbol of not just Paris, but of France. It is of course La Tour Eiffel.
A little research shows that it’s the most visited monument in the world. But why? What’s so great about this pyramid of iron?
I finally took the time to go and visit the tower yesterday. I had to examine for myself why such fuss surrounded it. Although I had been here for a few days, I hadn’t really felt the desire to visit it. The first time I spotted it was as I was walking across the Pont Neuf. The vague silhouette of the tower peeked from behind the cloud cover. It didn’t provide any sense of awe to me. It stuck out in the middle of a scene full of historic buildings along the Seine. To me, it didn’t belong there.
I came closer to it when I visited the Jardin des Tuileries. Here I began to appreciate the enormity of it. It’s sheer size of which all surrounding buildings could not compete.
As with most places, I decided to walk there. This way I can explore other regions along the way and almost always discover something that you don’t expect. This came in the form of the Eglise Saint-Sulpice, which I happened to have stumbled upon.
An ancient marvel with it’s massive pillars towering above. Seemingly out of nowhere, surrounded by mere supermarkets and boulangeries. Here is something that I had never even heard of before. I wondered why this hadn’t become the choice of symbol. The pride of Paris.
Eventually I arrived at the Eiffel Tower and my suspicions were confirmed. It invoked no passion nor awe from me. A big chunk of iron sticking out in the middle of some fields. It conforms not to the rest of Paris’ elegant architecture. Yes, there exists detail on the structure but this can not mask the excess of iron bolts protruding from it.
But what can one expect? The tower is modern relative to the rest of Paris. It wasn’t constructed until 1889. It bears none of the history that the other landmarks do.
What made things worse was not just the item itself, but the behaviour it attracted. It completely contradicted my last article. Here, it did cater for the foreign population. It did put aside it’s Parisian culture, willing to masquerade in front of tourists. The whole thing stank of a money grab.
Regardless, I thought it wrong of me not to go up. I can judge from the ground but I can not judge from above until I’ve been there. So, waiting in line and having my personal items checked not once but twice, I took the elevator to the second floor. I wasn’t prepared to pay the extra six euro for the third floor – eight euro was bad enough.
At the time construction was happening on the first floor. This didn’t help in romanticising the occasion. Lucky construction workers though, because what a view.
It’s here that we finally come to the sole positive of the Eiffel Tower. That is the view that it provides to the rest, more appealing, of Paris. Not the purpose it was built for, but they’ll utilise it for profits non-the-less.
Alas, it’s confirmed. Sacrilege maybe, but I think that a large proportions of Parisians would share my sentiments being that I don’t agree with the Eiffel Tower’s place in Paris. Certainly not with it’s status of the grandest of the grand. But my visit there was worthwhile. Standing on the second floor looking outwards to the rest of Paris, it allowed me to re-appreciate just how amazing the other sites are.
A petition published in Le Temps after the announcement of plans to construct the Eiffel Tower put it best:
“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal”