To most visitors to the Capital of France, the Eiffel Tower has been the symbol of Paris ever since the engineer Eiffel placed it against the skyline of Paris. If you arrive from Cherbourg or Le Havre, you will obtain glimpses of it even before you leave the train, and you will get many other glimpses of it as you wander through the city. Also, needless to say, every conducted city tour will give you an opportunity to photograph it from opposite ends, first from in front of the Ecole Militaire at the end of the Champ-de-Mars, and then from Place de Trocadero, the slight elevation on which the Palais de Chaillot stands. However, in either case you will be quite a distance from the tower and, impressive as it may seem from these distances, it still will not give you a proper idea of its size. In order to obtain that, if not your snapshots, it will be absolutely necessary for you to walk up to its base. For the Eiffel Tower is not only remarkable for its height, but to achieve that height it also had to be built to stand foursquare on the ground. So, this morning we are going to take a taxi to it to see just what this monster looks like when we stand in front of it.
If you were alone, and not too well acquainted with the city, you would probably ask the driver to take you directly to the Tour Eiffel. But this, I am afraid, would mean absolutely nothing to him. Not only would he want to know whereabouts at the Tour Eiffel you wanted to go, but the chances are that he wouldn’t even know what you meant by the Tour Eiffel, for in French Eiffel is pronounced eeffel so that you would probably end up by having to write it out for him anyway. And then he would exclaim in that indulgent manner the Paris taxi drivers have in treating foreign visitors- “Ah, la Tour Eeffell” However, in order to make our approach to this tower as drarnatic as possible, we are not going to tell our dirver to take us to the Tour Eiffel, but to the Place du Trocadero.
This square is right behind the Palais de Chaillot and derives its name from the old Trocadero Palace, which was one of the buildings put up for the great Exhibition of 1878. Before the Eiffel Tower was built, it and its twin towers was as common a sight on the skyline of Paris as the Eiffel Tower is now. During the Exhibition of 1889 -the exhibition for which the Eiffel Tower was builtthe entrance to the fair was between the two wings of this building, and it must have been a very dramatic entrance too, for immediately you passed through the entrance ate you stood almost in front of the great tower. The0 Trocadero, which was in the Moorish style, derived its name from the name of a fortress at Cadiz, which the French took in 1823. However, it was demolished in 1937 to make way for the palace you see there now. For many years the Trocadero was used as an exhibition hall for contemporary artists and I remember having wandered through an exhibition there many years ago. It also housed the permanent collection of French Monumental Sculpture started by the great French architect Viollet-le-Duc. This collection is now in the left wing of the Palais de Chaillot whereas the right wing is occupied by the Marine Museum and the Museum of the Races of Man. It is from the terrace between the two wings of this palace that you will have one of the best overall views of Paris. At your feet directly in front of you will be the Seine and the Pont d’J6na, then the Eiffel Tower, then the long expanse ,of the Champ-de-Mars with the Ecole Militaire at its far end. To your left will be the dome of the Invalides, and beyond that, seemingly in a hollow, the Latin Quarter and everything else that belongs to the Left Bank. But now, I am afraid, we have started to wander from our purpose, so let us get back to the Eiffel Tower.
As there are probably not many people left who can say that they were in Paris during the Great Exhibition of 1889, we can begin our history by saying that the Eiffel Tower was built as one of the more spectacular attractions of this exhibition. When Alexander Gustave Eiffel, whose speciality was building viaducts of steel-he was also the first man to use compressed air in the building of bridge piers-suggested that such a tower be built, he met with considerable opposition from artists and writers ,on the grounds that such a project would be lacking in artistic taste, and that, I think was all to the credit of the Parisians who always thought of their city as a city of artistic achievements. Eiffel’s idea which seemed extraordinarily bold for his day was, nevertheless, approved, and the tower went up between the years 1887 and 1889, at a cost of seven million eight hundred thousand gold francs, which was certainly a right tidy sum of money in those days. However, because it was the highest structure in the world at that time, and everybody who came to the exhibition wanted to get to the top of it, the Eiffel Tower very nearly paid for itself the first year. There are, no doubt, many real estate corporations in the United States, and especially lately, who wish they could say the same thing for what they put up in the matter of high-rent apartment buildings.
Perhaps the best way to describe the Eiffel Tower would be to say that it stands on the ground like an inverted trumpet. In any case, it would be very easy to imagine Eiffel taking a trumpet, standing it on end, and saying, if this trumpet will stand up, my tower will stand up too. But, of course, it was not as simple as that, for the Eiffel Tower does not stand on a circular rim but on four feet, and these four feet are just three hundred thirty feet apart. But what will probably surprise you most is the fact that the arches between these bases extend over not one, but two wide avenues, the Avenue Pierre Loti and the Avenue Anatole France, with a strip of turf between them large enough for a small ball park, and that, certainly is something. Up to the first platform, which is one hundred eighty-seven feet above the ground, the framework from these bases slants up in straight lines. From there on it continues in a slight curve to the much smaller second platform, which is three hundred seventy-seven feet above the ground. Thereafter the tower rises gracefully in a single column of intricate steel framework, which again flares out slightly at the base, toa height of nine hundred eighty-four feet. However, when the tower became a broadcasting tower another twentytwo feet were added to it so that it is now one thousand six feet high.
But even though the Eiffel Tower is now a broadcasting tower one can still visit the three platforms by using the elevators which will take you to the top of it in three stages. You will have to transfer to a different elevator on the first and on the second platforms. There is a restaurant on each of these, with the prices commensurate with their height from the ground. These two platforms can be reached in a comparatively short time, but if you plan to go to the very top, you will have to figure on at least an hour, if not more, for the round trip, including the time you spend looking around. In any case, when you are on the second platform you are already fifty feet higher than the top of the Montmartre Hill, and that is high enough for any aerial view of Paris. Incidentally, it may also interest you to know that Eiffel was already fifty-seven years of age when he undertook this work, but he also had the gratification to look upon his tower every day for thirty-four years after. He died in 1923 at the advanced age of ninety. In 1909 the tower came very close to being dismantled and it was saved only because it was felt that its height would make it an ideal broadcasting tower for the then infant radio communications indusry. So much for the Tour Eiffel. And now, unless you plan to have lunch at one or the other of its two restaurants, let us walk underneath it and down the Champ-de-Mars.
The Champ-de-Mars is the strip of land which extends from the tower to the Ecole Militaire at its other end. It is roughly eight hundred feet wide and a little less than half a mile long. It has been the site of all the World’s Fairs in Paris since the fair of 1867. This huge field was laid out between the years 1765-1767 and obtains its name “Fields of Mars,” from the fact that it used to be the parade grounds for the Military Academy. It has, of course been changed many times since it was first laid out, for it seems to get dug up anew every time there is another World’s Fair in Paris. However, the present gardens were laid out between the years 1908-1928, although it became the site of a World’s Fair in 1937 again. These gardens are traversed by the two broad avenues I already mentioned and by two additional avenues shaded by chestnut trees along each side of it. Excepting for the overpowering presence of the Eiffel Tower at the river end, these are not, perhaps, the most impressive avenues in Paris, but under their trees you will always find children at play or being taken for donkey rides. At the end of the park, standing directly in front of the Military Academy, there is a statue of “Papa” Joffre, and you won’t have to go up close to identify him either.
The Military Academy itself is a long, rambling building with a quadrangular domed building in the center and the two wings of the school extxending for two city blocks on each side of it. This school owes its existence principally to the interest of Madame de Pompadour, the famous mistress of Louis XV, who wanted him to establish a military school for impecunious young men of good breeding. Prior to that, only members of the aristocracy could become officers. :Napoleon entered this school when he was only fifteen and left it a year later as a lieutenant of artillery. Before he became Commander in Chief of the French Armies during World War I, Marshall Foch taught at this school for twenty-five years.
When these buildings were started-they were not actually completed until 1772 and for a long time after that, the vicinity of the Champ-de-Mars, as well as large areas toward the city, were still open country, the entire area being covered with the plots of market gardeners and vineyards. The Seine had no embankment along this stretch of the river then and its shores were used by washerwomen to wash the clothes of their customers. It was along this stretch of the river that Robert Fulton (1765-1815), who had given up art to become an engineer, made his first experiment with his steamboat. The size and openness of the Champ-de-Mars, as well as the fact that it was not too far from the city, made it an ideal meeting place for large public gatherings, some of the most famous of which took place during the French Revolution.
On July 14, 1790, for instance, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the Champ-de-Mars was chosen for a huge mass celebration, the so-called Fete de la Federation, attended by three hundred thousand Parisians. An altar-the Autel de la Patrie-had been set upon a little hillock which then still stood in the middle of the field, and everyone, including Lafayette and Louis XVI swore allegiance to the nation. This was two years before the mob stormed the Tuileries and three years before Louis XVI was taken to the scaffold. The whole proceedings on this day, we are told, took place in a pouring rain, but the enthusiasm was so great that no one seemed to mind getting soaked to the skin.
Just a year after this celebration, on July 17, 1791, the people demonstrated against the King on this same Champde-Mars and some people got killed by the National Guard who had tried to maintain order. The astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly, who had been elected President of the Third Estate, and had also been a leader at the famous proceedings at the Tennis Court, happened to be mayor of the city at the time. Two years later, when the Reign of Terror was in full swing, some people happened to remember this, and I3ailly, Naho had in the meantime fled to Nantes, was arrested, condemned to death, and sentenced to be executed on the site where this unfortunate incident took place. On the day set for the execution the guillotine was set up on the little mound where the Autel de la Patrie had stood, for in those days guillotines were set up and dismantled with about the same ease we erect a grandstand for visiting firemen. When someone realized that this had been the site of the former altar, the bloodthirsty mob dismantled the scaffold and dragged it over a ditch in order to make the scholar’s execution more ignominious. This was on November 12, 1793, only two days after the Revolutionary Tribunal had passed sentence on him.
But this still is not all. On the eighth of June, 1794, the Champ-de-Mars was again the scene of a great public celebration. This time it was to celebrate the “Feast of the Supreme Being.” What strange contradictionsl In that year Robespier-re had the Convention recognize the existence of a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. This feast was to be for the purpose of celebrating this decision. This happened to be only a year after this same Convention had outlawed religion and decreed that henceforth men were to be governed strictly by the Cult of Reason, of which Notre-Dame was to be the temple. So then, a year after the Feast of Reason we have the Feast of the Supreme Being. Front what we are told of the history of this period there were great rejoicings on this occasion also. There were even greater rejoicings when, only two months later, Robespierre’s head went the way so many others had gone before his.
When we are at the end of the Champ-de-Mars, we will not be too far from the Invalides and if we really wanted to we could walk over there by following the nearby Avenue de Tourville. It wouldn’t take us more than ten minutes. Besides, if you did have your lunch at the top of the Eiffel Tower, you could have your afterdinner drink at the cafe right across the street from the Military school. But about the Invalides, I will tell you something tomorrow.