Paris History: La Tour Eiffel

The Palais de Chaillot dates from the International Exposition of 1937 and is a period piece of between wars, timid-modern style. It replaces a structure of tepid Moorish sympathies left over from the 1878 International Exposition. Earlier in the 19th century, after demolition of the Convent of the Visitation, the top of this 230-foot (65 metre) hill had been leveled for the construction of a palace (never built) for the King of Rome, son of the emperor Napoleon.

The Palais is made of two separate pavilions, each of which sprouts a curved wing. The Musée de l'Homme (Museum of Man), the Musée de la Marine, and the Musée des Monuments Français (Museum of French Monuments) are located there. Under the terrace which separates the two sections are two theatres, the variable-formation (1,500 to 3,000 seats) National Popular Theatre (TNP) and a small hall that serves as one of the two cinemas of the National Film Library (Cinémathèque Française).

Image The statue-guarded terrace gives a splendid view across Paris and makes an enduring travel-poster setting for photographs of visitors and fashion models. The hill descending to the river has been made into a terraced park, the center of which is adance with mighty fountains, cascades, and pools. The Paris aquarium is in a grotto to the left.

Image One of the enchantments of the view--and some others in Paris--is that is has all the qualities of a trompe-loeil (literally, deceive the eye) painting into which, extraordinarily, one can walk. From the bottom of the hill the five-arched Pont d'Iéna springs across the river. It was built for Napoleon I in 1814, although the imperial "N"s with which it is decorated were in fact put there by Napoleon III. After the bridge comes the unclad metal truss tower of Gustave Eiffel. It was built for the International Exposition of 1889, against the strident opposition of national figures who believed it to be unsafe or ugly, or both. When the exposition concession expired in 1909, demolition of the 989-foot (300 metres) tower was averted by demonstration of its value as an antenna for the newly developed radio. Additions made for television transmission have added 56 feet (20.75 metres) to the height. From the topmost of the three platforms the view extends for 50 miles--when air pollution is low and the sun is near the horizon.

Image From the two-acre base of the tower the Champ-de-Mars stretches inland to the Ecole Militaire (built 1769-72) and still used by the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre (War College), where the 15-year-old cadet Napoleon Bonaparte was enrolled in 1784. Originally the schools parade ground, the field was the scene of two vast revolutionary rallies, that of the Federation (1790) and that of the Supreme Being (1794). From 1798 there were annual national expositions of crafts and manufactures, followed by worlds fairs between 1855 and 1900. The International Exposition of 1937 spread around it, for between 1908 and 1928 the field had been made into a formal park.

Behind the Ecole Militaire, which was designed by Gabriel, architect of the Place de la Concorde, stands the Y-shaped headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The building, erected in 1958, was designed by an international trio of architects and decorated by artists of member nations.

© 14 Oct 2002, Nicolas Pioch - Top - Up - Info
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