Titus Upputuru
Guest Article

And the Grand Prix for creative effectiveness goes to the ‘ugly’ monument

When it was first conceived, the Eiffel Tower faced immense opposition. It was termed as a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack.

Most years, I would land in Nice and, from there, drive down to Cannes. This year, I decided to land in Paris and do the usual sight-seeing with my family.

What I discovered was rather unusual.

The City of Lights, as it is known across the world, houses incredible creativity. You will find some of the world’s most famous paintings, including the lady with the subtle glance, the Mona Lisa that got briefly stolen in 1911.

History records that the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire came under suspicion, and was arrested and imprisoned. The poet had implicated his friend Pablo Picasso (yes Picasso), who was brought in for questioning too. Both were later exonerated.

The real culprit turned out to be a Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, who had helped construct the painting's glass case. He had carried out the theft by entering the building during regular hours, hiding in a broom closet, and walking out with the painting hidden under his coat coolly, after the museum had closed.

But the real attraction in Paris is another lady – ‘La dame de fer’ (French for the Iron Lady) – that latticed iron structure called the Eiffel Tower, named after the engineer whose company had designed and built the tower.

It was constructed over two years, from 1887 to 1889. The brief given to Gustave Eiffel was that it had to be the centrepiece of the 1889 World’s Fair.

Now, the unusual discovery was this: the initial reactions to the design that he presented, were shocking, to say the least. It was called ‘ugly’.

The design faced strict opposition and criticism from the powers that be, and the general feeling was that the new structure would destroy the beauty of Paris. People had issues with not only its form, but height too.

Prior to the Eiffel Tower's construction, no structure had ever been constructed to a height of 300 m, or even 200 m for that matter, and many people believed it was impossible.

Soon, a committee was formed to oppose the upcoming tower.

The Champ de Mars: a ‘committee of 300’ was created, led by the prominent architect Charles Garnier. It included some of the most important figures of those times, such as William Adolphe Bouguereau, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet.

A petition called ‘Artists against the Eiffel Tower’ was sent to the Minister of Works and Commissioner for the Exposition – Adolphe Alphand. It was also published by ‘Le Temps’ on February 14, 1887.

The petition read:

“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 20 years… we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.”

Gustave responded to these ghastly criticisms by trying to compare his tower to the Egyptian pyramids:

“My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And, why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?” 

These criticisms were also dealt with by Édouard Lockroy in a letter of support written to Alphand, sardonically saying, “Judging by the stately swell of the rhythms, the beauty of the metaphors, the elegance of its delicate and precise style, one can tell this protest is the result of collaboration of the most famous writers and poets of our time."

He explained that the protest was irrelevant, since the project had been decided upon months before, and construction of the tower was already under way.

Gustave had strong conviction and persevered with the construction. Over time, some protesters changed their minds as they saw the tower being built; others remained unconvinced.

Gustave finally accomplished bringing his design to life on March 31, 1889. On the top, he built an apartment for his own private use. He decorated it with furniture by Jean Lachaise and invited friends such as Thomas Edison.

During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest human-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years, until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930.

The Eiffel Tower was designated as the ‘Monument Historique’ in 1964, and named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

Today, the ‘ugly’ tower is the most-visited, paid monument in the world. More than 300 million people have visited the tower since it was completed, making it the most visited monument in the world with an entrance fee.

An average of 25,000 people ascend the tower every day, after having spent time in long queues. Data shows that around seven million visitors ascend to the top of the monument every year. The tower is being painted in gold in commemoration of the upcoming 2024 Olympics in Paris.

The beloved landmark is considered to be a cultural and global icon of France, attracting tourists from across the globe, minting millions for the country, helping the economy. 

Sometimes, it pays to stick to your conviction. 

(Our guest author Titus Upputuru is the founder of The Titus Upputuru Company.)

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