The secret life of the Eiffel Tower
Ah, Paris… the city of lights, cafes and that famous tower. Who wouldn't feel a dash of romantic whimsy at the sight of it?
The majesty of the structure isn't all it has to offer. Few tourists, and even not all the locals, know the true history and secret life of the massive structure. Many know that the latticed tower was constructed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World's Fair. At that time, it was a stunning achievement in architecture and the tallest building in the world. But did you know that it was only supposed to stand for twenty years?
An icon is made
The erection of this “useless and monstrous” structure whipped up great controversy, especially among celebrated writers, artists, architects and other wealthy Parisians who demanded that “this eyesore be torn down”. It was only supposed to serve a 20 year stint as a symbol of the architectural revolution before being torn down, yet escaped the wrecking ball for two main reasons. Firstly, it proved to be a very useful communications tower, and secondly, the massive edifice began to slowly earn public favor. It was becoming an icon of the city.
Still standing tall
In order for this behemoth of iron and gears to still be standing for us today, there is a secret village of people working at the structure's core that keep it up and running smoothly. Huge basements beneath the tower's legs hold humongous hydraulic motors that power the visitors' elevators, built in 1899. Massive colorful gears twirl huge spools of cable round and round. A counterbalance of 3,700 liters of water from the Seine acts as needed to hoist tourists up and down to the landing. Workers oil and inspect the many clanking and moving parts daily, but the wear and tear takes its toll on the secret massive motors. Casts of every single original gear, screw, and wheel in one of the aged hydraulic motors have been created so that catastrophe can be prevented. In addition to the metal inner workings, miles of waterlines run through the tower, shooting up from subterranean pumps. The lines are exposed to the elements and must be carefully maintained so that water is available throughout the edifice even on the coldest of days.
Don't drop it!
It takes a skilled and dedicated staff to keep the Iron Giant picture perfect. Their careful care of the structure is a testament to their patience; it can take up to an hour to replace a single light bulb. The workers are careful to not be seen by tourists and to keep from dropping their belongings. Anything that could fall, even something as small as a penny, could be deadly to people down below. So, systems of nylon rigging and careful maneuvers keep both the workers and visitors safe.
Next time you look at the Parisian symbol, you may want to keep in mind the delicacy and dedication of the custom pumps, heaters, light bulbs, cogs, gears and cables that purr deep in the construction's innards, in places where no tourist ever sees.
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By Katie Ware
Photos: Thinkstock.com and cover photo by Sylvia Sabes