For about 4000 years of so, the tallest man made structure was the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, with an original height of 481 feet. A few European cathedrals eventually topped out a bit higher than the pyramid, but they also didn’t reach heights much above 500 feet. Even the Washington Monument built in 1884 was only 555 feet high and only held the tallest structure title for 5 years. Then, in 1889, Gustave Eiffel built his tower as the entrance for the Paris World’s Fair, and in one fell swoop, almost doubled the height of the tallest building in the world with his tower topping out at 986 feet. The Eiffel Tower has since become one of the most recognizable buildings in the world and the defining icon for the City of Lights. For me, the Eiffel Tower is entwined with some of my best memories of visits to Paris over the past 17 years.
The Eiffel Tower stands tall above the rest of the buildings in Paris and can be seen for miles around. You can’t stroll along the Seine River without a view of it. Seeing it from far away, it can be hard to get a sense of how big it truly is. It’s only when you stand right under it that its true magnitude becomes apparent and you can’t help feeling awed by the sheer size of it towering over you. The base is 328 ft. wide, almost as wide as an American football field’s length. Yet, its iron lattice structure produces an open, graceful, and delicate feel that belies its weight of about 10,000 tons.
The Eiffel Tower IS Paris, and a first time visit to the City of Lights is not complete without a close up view. I got to share my first visit to this icon with the rest of my family. It was our first trip to Europe, and with my husband, our 8 year old daughter, and our 13 year old son, we had planned a two week whirlwind tour of Europe’s major destinations. The trip ended with two and a half days in Paris before heading back home. We toured all the famous sights in the city, but while the kids patiently put up with seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre (“She’s so small”), they were very excited about going to the top of the Eiffel Tower – we were all excited. As we walked underneath the tower and looked up in awe, it was a “Pinch me I can’t believe I’m here” moment. We planned our visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower once it was dark so that we could also experience the special light show that had been installed in celebration of the Millennium. We had seen the light show earlier that year when the New Year’s celebration was broadcast on TV, but now we got to actually see it in person and up close. Sharing this “first” as a family made it all that much more special. My daughter’s souvenir from that trip? A foot tall model of the Eiffel Tower that decorated her room until she moved out after college.
On my second visit to Paris, I was helping to chaperone a group of junior and senior high school girls on an organized tour in Europe (what was I thinking), which also included my daughter, now 16. We started in Dublin, then London and then ended in Paris.
The cap to the last day of the trip was a visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower. For most everyone in the group, this was a first time visit and the excitement levels were about as high as the Eiffel Tower was tall. I went up with the girls for the viewpoint at the first observation deck, but that was all my fear of heights could take. As they went up to the next level I chose to wait for them on sturdier ground and waited while they enthusiastically climbed down the 704 stairs back to earth. As I waited, I enjoyed a banana and Nutella crepe sitting in the shadow of this amazing structure. At that moment, it was the best crepe I had ever tasted, it’s flavor enhanced no doubt by my surroundings. Afterwards, I would make banana and Nutella crepes at home, but they never tasted quite the same. One day, my daughter got tired of hearing me complain that the crepes did not taste as good as the one I had under the Eiffel Tower, so she brought the model of the Eiffel Tower from her room and plopped it down on the table in front of me. Nice thought, but my crepes still did not taste as good as the original experience.
In the summer of 2011, a project for work took me to Paris – it was a tough job but someone had to do it! I went with a good friend and co-worker who had never been to Paris before. I scheduled all the sight seeing activities for the weekends when we had free time, so that she saw all the major sights and so that I also had a chance to visit places I had not had a chance to see on my previous trips. We started with an early morning stroll to the Eiffel Tower since we were staying close by in a small hotel on Rue Cler. Because it was very early (we were still trying to get over jet lag), there were hardly any other tourists yet. It was a peaceful walk along the gardens of the Champ de Mars as we approached the tower – something not possible any other time of day. Standing under the Eiffel Tower without a throng of tourists around is a completely different experience. You can hear the wind whistle through the lacy supports and the birds chirp as they fly above you from one girder to another. My friend was of course, thrilled to see this icon – it was the firsts of many wonderful moments for her on that trip.
On my most recent trip to Paris this spring, I decided to visit the Eiffel Tower again, as it had been quite a while since I had seen it up close. I was dismayed, though not really surprised, to see that the Iron Lady as the French call her, was wearing a new necklace in the form of a metal security fence all around the base of the tower. And not only was there a strong police presence, but also a heavily armed and very serious looking military presence. Since I wasn’t planning on going to the top, I did not feel like dealing with the security check just to walk underneath it, so I just walked around it and admired it from afar. Sadly, no more easy ambling underneath the tower to look straight up and be awed by it. No more sitting under the tower on a whim with a banana and Nutella crepe and revel in this unique Parisian experience.
Over 7 million people visit the Eiffel Tower annually. With so many visitors, I can understand the need for the increased security, especially in today’s political climate. I’ve read that the plans are to replace the metal fence with a bullet proof glass enclosure which should at least make the view a little more attractive. Yet, I mourn for the simpler days when such security measures were not even conceivable, much less necessary. I can only hope that one day we will once again have a more peaceful, trusting global climate so that such security will no longer be necessary and an easy amble with a banana and Nutella crepe underneath Paris’s biggest icon will once again be possible.
Thanks for visiting.