The Eiffel Tower, that accidental icon of Paris, is under constant threat, and the armed soldiers walking around the base are doing nothing to stop it. Though their presence is accepted and appreciated by visitors and Parisians alike, the threat I’m talking about is perpetual and cannot be warded off by security measures.
The Eiffel Tower is constructed of puddle iron. Puddle iron’s natural enemy is rust. And, as Neil Young so poetically stated – Rust Never Sleeps. Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s eponymous builder, knew this to be the case, and pointed out back in 1900 that the real saviours of the tower would be the painters. “We will most likely never realize the full importance of painting the Tower, that it is the essential element in the conservation of metal works and the more meticulous the paint job, the longer the Tower shall endure.”
Since it’s initial construction, the Eiffel Tower has be re-painted 18 times – about once every 7 years. It has changed colour several times, passing from red-brown to yellow-ochre, then to chestnut brown and finally to the bronze of today, slightly shaded off towards the top to ensure that the colour is perceived to be the same all the way up as it stands against the Paris sky. Sixty tons of paint are necessary to cover the Tower’s surface, as well as 50 kilometers of security cords, 5 acres of protection netting, 1500 brushes, 5000 sanding disks, 1500 sets of work clothes…and more than a year for a team of 25 painters to paint the Tower from top to bottom.
Probably the most amazing thing about the preservation work on the Tower is that it is done in the same way today (last painting was 2009) as it was when it was first built. No sprayers are used – the entire structure is painted by hand! Today the painters hang from safety harnesses and work their way meticulously (as Eiffel demanded) over every square inch of the structure with their brushes. Notice in the black and white photos the lack of safety equipment in earlier days though.
So here’s to the painters – who ensure that this monument to human ingenuity and icon of Paris remains stable, safe, and open to the public!
OneLife Tours is dedicated to the absolute best in European travel experiences. Our Grand Tour of Europe features 3 days in Paris, and of course a visit up the Eiffel Tower (without the lineups). Contact our chief tour director Craig Bresett for more information.