For me, a visit to Paris is never complete without a view of the Eiffel Tower, and this time, I decided to take a closer look at my favorite Parisian monument on a behind the scenes tour at the Eiffel Tower. Fittingly, our tour began at the base of the tower in front of a statue of the man who created all the excitement: Gustave Eiffel.
I had scheduled an evening tour, and as our small group of ten walked to the green expanse of Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower suddenly came alive with 350 projectors bathing the legendary tower in golden light. It’s hard to believe now, but this iconic structure was not well-received initially. When the tower was first constructed for the 1889 Universal Exhibition, it was considered an eyesore and was scheduled to be demolished. Gustave Eiffel convinced the city that the tower had scientific value and bolstered his case by cleverly emblazoning the names of prominent French scientists and engineers all around the first level of the tower.
The average tourist would never even notice the entrance to the underground bunker, but our tour guide, Emanuel, led us down an obscure stairway into a hidden room below. The bunker is a well-kept secret — in fact, this tour has only been available for the last 8 years because prior to that, the underground space was not suitable for public access. The bunker was an important asset during WWI, housing critical telegraphic equipment. Strangely enough, the bunker now serves as a food locker for the Jules Verne restaurant, the Eiffel Tower’s famous second floor eatery. All the food has to be sent up to ground level via elevator, trucked over to the east pillar of the tower, and then it rides up a special Eiffel elevator to the restaurant.
It is no easy feat to keep the Eiffel Tower in top condition. The tower must be repainted every 7 years requiring about 60 tons of highly durable paint! And the tower is constantly being updated to maintain that ‘wow’ factor. Twenty thousand twinkling lamps were added to the Eiffel in the year 2000 to celebrate the new millennium. These sparklers were supposed to be temporary, but Parisians loved the effects so much (and complained so bitterly about their proposed removal) that the twinkling remained and occurs for five minutes at the top of every after-dark hour. To provide even more thrills for tourists visiting the Eiffel Tower, construction is currently underway to add a new level featuring a see-through glass floor.
Next, Emanuel led us into the engine room to see the unique hydraulic elevators with their pulley/cable system that moves visitors safely up and down the tower. By the way, these elevators do a lot of hoisting: 7 million people visited the Eiffel in 2010. When Germany occupied Paris during WWII, Hitler wanted to see the view from the top, but as Emanuel gleefully described, the French had sabotaged the elevators so Adolf would have to walk all the way up!
Our last stop was a private viewing area above the Jules Verne restaurant on the second floor. Here we enjoyed fabulous views of the city (and the guilty pleasure of bypassing all those people waiting in line). As I was leaving, the tower started twinkling with its now-famous effervescent lights. It was as if the Eiffel Tower were saying, ‘Merci et au revoir!’