chapter  10
The legacy of commemorative events
Pages 18

The Eiffel Tower is one of the most enduring and recognisable destination images in the world. The first glimpse is breath-taking, perhaps the natural reaction when viewing an icon that one has only seen in books or on television, like the Parthenon, the Pyramids at Giza and the Taj Mahal. But there is something different about the Eiffel Tower. Unlike these other products of human ingenuity, the tower is the essence of modernity. It was made of cast and wrought-iron, not traditional stone or brick, and was not adorned with carvings, paintings or precious stones. Its soaring simplicity is the height of Paris chic. Or so we think today. When it was first built for the Exposition Universelle of 1889, it met with ridicule and outrage. A petition against its erection was signed by well-known writers, composers and artists, including writers Guy de Maupassant and fils Dumas and composer Charles Gounod, and referred to ‘the deflowering of Paris’ (Loyrette 1985: 174). Significantly, all identified as conservatives. By the time they presented the petition, plans for construction of the tower were well underway and there was no turning back (Harvie 2004; Loyrette 1985). De Maupassant hated the tower so much that he attributed his penchant for frequent dining in its Jules Verne Restaurant to his desire to be in the one place where he could not see the monument (Ayers 2004; Barthes 1979). It is difficult to believe that such a well-loved building, which Barthes (1979: 3) describes as ‘a universal symbol of Paris’, and whose image has found its way onto a myriad of souvenirs, including the ubiquitous T-shirts, fridge magnets and key chains, could have attracted such vitriol or come so close to being demolished.