They say a bad day in Paris is still better than a good day anywhere else. Maybe it’s due to the fact that every corner, every street, every boulevard, and every brick is somehow its own little work of art. A simple walk down the sidewalk will “provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life,” as Thomas Jefferson once said.
Many authors and artists, including Charles Dickens, Henry Miller, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, and Vincent Van Gogh, spoke about the City of Lights as the most awe-inspiring place one can live in. As one woman in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris states, “That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.”
As sophisticated as it can be, nothing speaks more about the elegance of Paris than the Eiffel Tower. With all of its monumental grandeur, from the moment it was finished in 1889 up until today, it is the beacon and the beating heart of the city. “I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am,” said Gustave Eiffel, the father of what is now the symbol of Paris. And he was right. Since its inauguration as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, the Iron Lady of Paris has been everything but ignored. On the contrary, after a whole century it still continues to attract more than 7 million visitors every year.
While most people have always found the tower charming and romantic, there was a group painters, poets, writers, and all different kinds of preeminent artists who lived in and admired Paris but despised the colossal iron tower even before it was built. They called themselves the Committee of Three Hundred.
For every single foot that was supposed to be erected, there was one displeased Parisian who was offended by the notion and protested against the construction of “this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower,” as they would famously argue in their petitions to stop this apparent madness.
The group of prominent figures and intellectuals, led by the renowned architect and constructor of the Grand Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, Charles Garnier, raised their voices against the radical design of the tower and even signed an official manifesto which was published on Valentine’s Day in Le Temps, two years before the finalization of what they called a “gigantic black factory chimney.”
“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,” reads the official statement. However, they were only a few fish in a sea of many who thought otherwise, among whom was the man who envisioned the tower. He considered it to be the greatest monumental achievement in human history and the best way to celebrate the 1ooth year anniversary of the French Revolution.
While he was overseeing its construction, the French engineer Gustave Eiffel opposed their views of his “Iron Lady of Paris” with scientific explanation, pointing to his desire to show that “we are not simply the country of entertainers, but also that of engineers and builders called from across the world to build bridges, viaducts, stations and major monuments of modern industry, the Eiffel Tower deserves to be treated with consideration.” Eiffel even compared his tower to the pyramids in Giza. “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?”
This battle of the wits and tastes between the artistic elite in Paris and Gustave Eiffel went on until the Eiffel Tower was completed and triumphantly proved its opponents wrong. Many of the protesters ultimately changed their minds and indulged in the tower and its presence.
However, the French writer and master of the short story genre Guy de Maupassant, who was among the artist protesters, apparently never accepted the tower and its presence. Defeated by the tower and annoyed by its immense popularity, de Maupassant couldn’t stand the sight of his “iron arch nemesis,” which seemed to follow him whenever he wanted to stroll around the center of Paris. At last de Maupassant thought of a safe place where he could avoid the tower that he obviously despised so much: underneath the Eiffel tower itself. Every day, he had lunch at the tower’s base restaurant, just because “inside the restaurant was one of the few places where I could sit and not actually see the Tower!”
Unfortunately for him, replicas of the tower were soon being produced from every material known to man and displayed on every street corner throughout Paris. Stuck in this “unavoidable and agonizing nightmare,” he left Paris and traveled to Sicily. In 1880 de Maupassant wrote The Wandering Life (La Vie Errante), in which he explained the reasons for his departure.
He died only a decade later in 1893 at the age of 43. He was buried just a 12-minute ride from the tower, at the Cimetière de Montparnasse in Paris. Luckily, it does not offer a clear view of the Eiffel Tower.
The city lived on without him, and today the Eiffel Tower is widely recognized as the enduring emblem of Paris. More than 250 million people have visited it since it was completed in 1889. An average of 25,000 people ascend the tower every day, making it the most-visited paid monument in the world, as well as the most popular replica souvenir among travelers.