This year in France, our very own Iron Lady has reached her 130th birthday. Le Tour Eiffel. Receiving close to 7 million visitors a year, it is the most visited monument in the world, but like so many other artistic endeavours it was not an easy birth. The plan to build a 300 metre high, iron construction was conceived as part of the celebrations for the World Fair of 1889, exactly one hundred years after the French Revolution.
The idea, its concept was met with some enthusiasm and a great deal of anger, mockery and vitriol.
Many from the world of arts and letters, including Guy de Maupassant, Alexandre Dumas junior, Charles Gounod, began in 1886 to campaign against an iron construction. Such a monstrosity, they argued, would overshadow the capital’s iconic monuments. Pamphlets and articles were published. These were known collectively as La Protestations des Artistes. Charles Garnier, the renowned architect who designed the Paris Opera House and had collaborated with Gustave Eiffel on the magnificent dome of the Observatoire in Nice, was also amongst them. Paul Verlaine described the design as a “belfry skeleton”. Others were far less kind.
Gustave’s response to the criticism was:
“Do you think it is for their artistic value that the pyramids have so powerfully struck the imagination of men? What are they, after all, but artificial mountains? [The aesthetic impact of the pyramids was found in] the immensity of the effort and the grandeur of the result. My tower will be the highest structure that has ever been built by men. Why should that which is admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?”