Monument to the Age of Steam: The Eiffel Tower
Nothing says “Paris” like the Eiffel Tower. France’s most iconic landmark was officially opened on this day in 1889. The tower is named for Gustav Eiffel, the engineer whose firm designed it for the 1889 World’s Fair. At the time many artists and architects hated it, calling it “useless and monstrous.” Yet by the First World War, it was so beloved that it became a symbol of French patriotism in the war against Germany.
What I personally love about the Tower is its modernist, industrial character which symbolizes Mankind’s struggle to rise above the misery and poverty of our original state, triumph against nature. Yes, we’ve constructed many taller buildings since then, but the Tower’s arbitrary and ornamental purpose underscores that the Industrial Revolution which enabled its creation was one of the greatest accomplishments of our species.
As an advocate of free expression, I must mention one more thing: the society which manages the tower claims to hold copyright over photographs of the tower being illuminated at night. This stance is controversial, and I know of no other national landmark that makes this claim. In open defiance of this silliness, I’ve included a contemporary image of the tower at night. In my view, the Tower is a symbol of the human spirit and thus belongs not just to France but to all the peoples of the world.