Tag Archives: France

March 31st – The Eiffel Tower is opened

The Eiffel Tower, in midst of construction.

The Eiffel Tower, in midst of construction.

On this day in 1889, 125 years ago, the Eiffel Tower opened. One of the most well-known landmarks worldwide, the Eiffel Tower has come to symbolize the city of Paris and France, and is the most visited paid monument in the world (almost 7 million visitors each year). For almost 40 years after its opening, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world, eclipsed by the Chrysler Building in New York City in 1930.

Interestingly, the Eiffel Tower was never meant to be a permanent fixture in the cityscape of Paris. In honour of the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution (1789), the city of Paris decided to hold an international exposition and the construction of a monument on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. The city decided on Gustav Eiffel’s design, a 984 feet tall open-lattice iron-wrought tower that would be the tallest structure in the world. Eiffel was a famed architect who had only three years ago designed the framework of the Statue of Liberty.

In general, Parisians were skeptical of the design of the Eiffel Tower on the city. The French arts establishment published the following in Le Temps:

“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower…To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years…we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal”

Regardless, work on the tower began on January 28th, 1887. The construction of the tower featured an iron framework supported by four masonry piers, from which four columns arose to form a single vertical tower. Three platforms exist in the Eiffel Tower, each with an observation deck. Elevators ascend up the piers along a curve, which were not completed until after the tower’s opening. On March 31st, 1889, Gustav Eiffel climbed all the tower’s stairs to reach the top of the tower, where he raised the French tricolour, with fireworks set off from the second platform, and a 21 cannon salute at ground level. Later on in May, the International Exposition opened, exposing the Eiffel Tower to the world at large. Interestingly, the city of Paris had only granted the Eiffel Tower a 20 year lease on the land it was on, and consequently in 1909 was subject for demolition. However, the Eiffel Tower proved to be highly valuable as an antenna for radio transmission, and was therefore preserved. Bonne fête Tour de Eiffel!

Here is the official site for the Eiffel Tower, with information for visiting: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/en.html.

And here are some interesting facts concerning the Eiffel Tower:

  • There are 5 billion lights on the Eiffel Tower.
  • The French nickname for the tower is La Dame de Fer, the Iron Lady (how Thatcherite!)
  • Gustav Eiffel installed a meteorological laboratory on the third floor of the tower, which was available for scientists to use for studying anything from gravity to electricity.
  • In order to give the appearance of an uniform colour on the tower, paint is used in a graduated manner to counteract the effect of atmospheric perspective. Consequently, the bottom of the tower is actually painted lighter than the top. The Eiffel Tower is covered with 60 tonnes of paint every seven years to protect against corrosive forces.
  • The names of 72 French scientists are inscribed on the exterior of the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. Scientists honoured include Georges Cuvier, Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, Louis Le Chatelier, Léon Foucault, Charles-Augustin de Coulomb, and Louis Daguerre.
  • In February 4th, 1912, the Austrian tailor Franz Reichelt tested his wearable parachute design by jumping from the Eiffel Tower to deploy the suit. Infamously, and tragically, Reichelt was proven wrong, when his parachute failed to deploy upon jumping from the tower, sending him crashing to the floor. Footage was taken of his perilous jump live, and can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBN3xfGrx_U.
  • In 1914, a radio transmitter located on the Eiffel Tower jammed German radio communications, which served to hinder the German advance on Paris. In essence, the Eiffel Tower contributed to the Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne.
  • In 1940, just before France fell to Nazi Germany, the lift cables for the Eiffel Tower’s elevators were cut by the French, to prevent the occupying German forces and Hitler from using them to enjoy the city view of Paris. When Hitler went to visit Paris after the Fall of France, der Fuhrer chose to stay on the ground.
  • Almost 30 replicas of the Eiffel Tower have been built around the world.
  • One of the Hollywood clichés is that in any movie featuring Paris, you are able to see the Eiffel Tower out the window. In reality, city zoning restrictions limit the height of most buildings in Paris to only seven stories, therefore only a few taller buildings exist that would allow for a clear view of the Eiffel Tower.

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January 25th – First Winter Olympics are held

Official poster for the 1924 Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix, France.

Official poster for the 1924 Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix, France.

With the countdown towards the start of this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia less than two weeks away, I thought this topic was apt. On this day in 1924, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France (in the French Alps). Originally known as the “International Winter Sports Week”, or en françaisLa Semaine Internationale des Sports d’Hiver, these Olympic Games lasted from January 25th to February 4th, with 16 nations participating and 258 athletes competing in total.

The Winter Olympics had many antecedents. In 1901, five years after the birth of the modern Olympics at Athens, Sweden held the first organized international competition in winter sports. Called the Nordic Games, this competition was exclusive to Scandinavian nations. Interestingly, the first time that winter sports were staged at the Olympics were in 1908 (London, UK) for figure skating, and 1920 (Antwerp, Belgium) for men’s ice hockey. As a separate Winter Olympics event did not exist at the time, both the figure skating and ice hockey events were held months after the Summer Olympics were held.

In 1924, the French Olympic Committee decided to host a Winter Olympics in the foothills of the French Alps, in conjunction with the Summer Olympics that were to be held later in the year in Paris. On January 25th, 1924, the first Winter Olympic games were held, with the following six sports being played: bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, military patrol (known today as the biathlon), skating (both figure skating and speed skating), and Nordic skiing (cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, and ski jumping). The sixteen nations participating were: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, and Yugoslavia.

Here are some interesting facts about the First Winter Olympic Games:

  • Norway won the most medals at the games, with 4 gold, 7 silver, and 6 bronze for a total of 17 medals. Finland won the second most medals, with 4 gold, 4 silver, and 3 bronze (total of 11).
  • These Olympic Games in the winter of 1924 marked the first time that the host country failed to win any gold medals. At Chamonix, France won 3 bronze medals, and no gold. Since Chamonix, this feat has only occurred four other times, at St. Moritz, Switzerland (Summer, 1928), Montreal, Canada (Summer, 1976), Calgary, Canada (Winter, 1988), and Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (Winter, 1984).
  • Oddly enough, in 1974 the last medal of the 1924 Winter Olympics was handed out. Anders Haugen of the United States was awarded the bronze medal in a ski jumping event, after Olympic officials had discovered that a scoring error had occurred, placing Haugen incorrectly in fourth place. By the time Haugen received his bronze medal in 1974, he was 86 years old. I hope by that age he was not ski jumping any longer…
  • From 1924 to 1992, Winter and Summer Olympics were held on the same year, every four years. A decision in 1986 however by the International Olympic Committee placed the Summer and Winter Games on separate four-year cycles in alternating even-numbered years. Consequently, the next Winter Olympics after 1992 (Albertville, France) were held in 1994, at Lillehammer, Norway.
  • Canada won its first Winter Olympics gold medal in men’s ice hockey, uniquely defending their title from the previous Summer Olympics. Women’s ice hockey would not be added to the Olympic until 1998, at Nagano, Japan. Here’s to another ice hockey gold medal (in both men’s and women’s mind you) this year at Sochi, 90 years after Chamonix! 🙂

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