מגדל האייפל חוגג 120 שנה - מאמר באנגלית
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Actualité en France
The Eiffel Tower, 120 years of success!
Officially inaugurated on 31 March 1889, and opened to the public on 15 May the same year, the Eiffel Tower is celebrating its one hundred and twentieth anniversary. Disparaged in its early days, it has today become one of the major symbols of France in the world’s collective unconscious. A tour de force that owes nothing to chance…
Its instantly recognisable silhouette is the stuff of dreams the world over. Yet what critics it had in its early days! In a joint letter, the likes of Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Alexandre Dumas junior vilified “the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower”, “the dishonour of Paris”. A “hole-riddled suppository” in the view of Huysmans, an “ungainly skeleton” as Maupassant saw it… But Gustave Eiffel was not to be discouraged. The engineer responded to the artists: “the Tower will have its own beauty”.
The public were not mistaken, and visited it en masse from its inauguration at the 1889 Universal Exposition. Two million sightseers flocked to see the tallest building of its day (the Tower retained its title until 1930, when New York’s Chrysler Building was completed). It was a triumph. Tens of thousands of brave souls did not even wait for the installation of lifts to climb to the top.
But once the exhibition was over the bubble burst and the number of visitors fell dramatically. All efforts failed, even reducing the price of admission. Some malcontents even suggested the construction be dismantled. To avoid such a disaster, Eiffel decided to turn his construction to profit by exploiting its scientific potential. A small observation station was installed, then it was the turn of a wireless telegraphy antenna and finally a television broadcast antenna…
Visitors were still very few, and it was not until the 1960s and the emergence of international tourism that visitor numbers finally rose rapidly. The Tower now easily passes the six million visitors a year mark.
And in order to continue to attract sightseers, the Iron Lady varies her attire. For the transition to the year 2000 she sparkled. She was decked in blue for Europe Day in 2006 and to mark the French Presidency of the European Union in 2008, in red to celebrate the Chinese New Year in 2004, and in green for the Rugby World Cup in 2007.
Every time there is a great event to celebrate, the Eiffel Tower comes into its own. Given its fame, the impact is in no doubt. Does this mean that the Tower has become the vehicle of communication of the French state, a relay station for all large-scale operations? It has in reality always played this role, even before it was built.
At the time, European leaders realised that technological advances could be used as a political showcase, given that public opinion is very sensitive to progress. By presenting its innovations, a state displays its superiority over its rivals. Gustave Eiffel was not mistaken, promoting the “compendium of contemporary science” that was his construction, but also the “boldness of its conception”, and above all the proof that “we are not only a country of entertainers, but a country of engineers and builders who are called upon all over the world”.
A symbol of French expertise, the Tower inspires admiration, but also jealousy. We have lost count of the number of replicas and identical copies in the United States, China, Japan, and elsewhere. But what is it really? The best definition is probably that of Roland Barthes : “Look, object, symbol, the Tower is all that man puts in it, and this all is infinite. A spectacle looked at and looking, a useless and irreplaceable building, a familiar world and heroic symbol, the witness to a century and an always new monument, an inimitable and endlessly reproduced object, it is the pure sign, open to all times, all images and all senses: the unbridled metaphor; through the Tower, men exercise this great faculty of the imagination, which is their freedom; since no history, however dark it may be, has ever been able to take theirs away."
Although it is a venerable age today, the Iron Lady still has what it takes to make the planet dream…