Towers

 

Building bigger has been a constant theme in construction, but with towers, the only thing that really matters is how high. Some theorize that the construction of towers is a way for people to get closer to heaven and to overcome the bonds of earth. Since the Tower of Babel, towers have been both a symbol and a symptom of man’s desire to push the limits. Too often, however, the limits have pushed back.

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The Eiffel Tower

When the Eiffel Tower defeated the Germans

Has there ever been a structure that’s so completely exemplifies a city as the Eiffel tower? Whenever almost anyone thinks of Paris they think of the Eiffel tower. The great structure has appeared in more paintings, films, and photographs then almost anything else in the city. At times it almost seems as if the city of Paris was built around the Eiffel Tower. Whenever there is a national holiday the Eiffel tower seems to get decorated or lit up in some spectacular fashion.  And of course the number of tiny souvenir Eiffel Towers sold to tourists cannot be numbered.The tower is the most visited paid monument in the world having received its 250 millionth visitor in 2011. At the time it was built and for 41 years thereafter, the Eiffel tower was the tallest man-made structure on earth. It s still pretty much the most universally recognized.
So it may come as something of a surprise to some people to learn that the Eiffel tower was not always so popular or even accepted.
The tower was erected in 1899 as the entrance to the world’s fair that year, and was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel, an engineer and businessman who also designed the framework for the statue of liberty.

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The tower as par of the world’s fair in 1886

From the very beginning the tower was controversial. Too many, it seemed so out of scale with the rest of the city and seem to clash so much with the regal second Empire architecture that surrounded it. Many of the leading intellectuals of Paris including famous writers and playwrights condemned the tower as an eyesore, and wrote an open letter to the newspapers and the other citizens of Paris condemning “… This useless and monstrous Eiffel tower…this gigantic black smokestack”. Eiffel and others responded to the criticism by comparing the tower to the pyramids of Egypt and other massive and beautiful world landmarks. Once the tower was completed however much of the criticism abated, but not everyone was convinced the author Guy de Maupassant made a point of having his lunch at the restaurant in the Eiffel tower itself every day because he claimed it was the only place in Paris he did not have to look at the Eiffel tower on the skyline.

After the first world war the tower became neglected  and there were rumors that the government intended to demolish it for the scrap metal. A con man named Victor Lustig took advantage of this rumor by setting himself up as a government official in charge of the process. He gathered together some scrap metal dealers and invited them to submit bids. Once he selected the bid he approached the dealer for a bribe and was given one. Even though he realized he had been conned the dealer was too embarrassed to report the dealing to the police. Encouraged by his success Lustig set up the same card again but this time the intended victim informed the police and Lustig was arrested.

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The tower today

The elevators in the tower were done to two different designs by two different companies. The lower elevator, a relatively straight proposition, was done by French company but the elevator to carry people the rest of the way on the curved legs of the tower was done by the Otis elevator company from America.
When the Germans invaded Paris in 1940, the French cut the elevator cables, forcing the Germans to climb the 1665 steps to the top of the tower to hang the German flag. The flag was a little too big however, and the wind promptly ripped it off and blew it away, a good omen to the French and a bad one to the Germans. The Germans had to climb the tower a second time with a smaller flag. Hitler came to Paris to view his conquest and pose for pictures. Supposedly the plan was that he would be photographed at the top of the tower overlooking his domain, but when the frantic Germans tried to get the French to repair the elevators so Hitler could use them, the French claimed that they couldn’t get parts because of the war. As a result when Hitler came to town he was forced to have his picture taken not at the top of the Eiffel tower but at the Trocadero with the tower in the background. The French said that the Germans conquered Paris but they couldn’t conquered the Eiffel tower. When the Allies were about to enter Paris, Hitler ordered general Dietrich von Choltitz, the German commander in Paris to burn the city and destroy the Eiffel tower. Von Choltitz, probably not wishing to go down in history as the man who destroyed Paris and the Eiffel Tower, chose to ignore that order.

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Hitler comes to call. but can’t get to the top of the tower

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American GIs watch French flag fly on the tower once again.

Mysteriously the elevator cables which were inoperable during the entire occupation were repaired soon after the Allies entered Paris.

 

 

 

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