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Posts Tagged ‘life in 19th century Paris’

 

eiffel story

A postcard stamped with the words Sommet de la Tour Eiffel was a proof that the sender had made it to the top

 

The Eiffel Tower, the unmistakable symbol of Paris, is 128 years old and, with seven million paying visitors a year, it is the most profitable monument in the city. Like all stories, the story of the Eiffel Tower is not without controversy. In the beginning, the odds were against this “odious pillar of bolted metal” as in here:

 
[…]Imagine for a moment a vertiginously ridiculous tower, as well as a gigantic black factory chimney, overlooking Paris, crushing with its barbaric mass the Notre Dame , The Sainte Chapelle, the Saint-Jacques Tower, the Louvre, the dome of the Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all our monuments humiliated, all our architectures dwarfed, which will disappear in this astounding dream. And for twenty years we shall see spreading over the whole city, still vibrating with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see the odious shadow of the odious pillar of bolted metal spreading like an inkblot.[…]

 
Thus protested, in a petition published in 1887, the top painters, sculptors, music composers, writers, and other lights of the French cultural elite. Boy, were they wrong! For a start, the tower outlived the twenty years of its proposed duration thanks to its adaptability. It was used for scientific experiments (radio signals from the tower to the Panthéon in 1898), it served as a military radio station in 1903, it facilitated the first public radio program in 1925, and, finally, it adapted to the television signal. As for the ugliness, the 300 petition signatories could not have been more mistaken. What other architectural object in Paris had been inspiring more artistic creativity in painting, poetry, and music? Besides, the petition came too late as the tower had already been under construction for a month. At the time, the project had no other purpose than to showcase the French technical and engineering ability at the 1899 World Fair.

 

Exposition-1889

The projected site of the 1899 Paris Universal Exposition on the Champ de Mars

 

philadelphia

The 1000-foot Tower envisaged for the Philadelphia Universal Exhibition, its height compared to that of the main monuments of the world

 

 

 

The idea of a one-thousand-feet tower came from the United States, where such a project was envisioned for the Philadelphia World Exposition and rejected as impossible to realize. It is well-known, at least among the French, that “l’impossible n’est pas français.” A concourse was launched for a tour with a square base of 25 meters and the height of 300 meters (approx. one thousand feet). The project went to the firm of Gustave Eiffel, whose two engineers, Émile Nouguier and Maurice Kœchlin, were at the origin of the design.

 

 

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The first sketch of the tower by Maurice Kœchlin

 

The construction began on January 28, 1887. Standing 984 feet high upon completion on March 15, 1889, the Eiffel Tower became the world’s tallest structure. It kept that honor for 41 years until the Chrysler Building topped it out in 1930, standing at 1,046 feet.

 

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The tower weighs 10,100 tons and comprises 18,000 metallic parts joined together by 2.5 million rivets. It is possible to climb to the top, but there are 1,665 steps. Most people take the lift.

 

Repainting the tower, which happens every seven years, requires 60 tons of paint. The color of the tower is not uniform. It has three distinct shades of the same hue. The darker is applied near the ground, the lighter covers the upper parts. This is done in order to limit the visual impact of the tower against the Parisian sky.

 

color

The tower base with the Trocadéro Palace, which was demolished in 1937 to make room for the Palais de Chaillot

 

Nowadays the color is bronze, but it is not definitive. Indeed, between two painting projects, visitors have the opportunity to give their opinions on the color to be taken for the next painting job. Of course, they have no choice between red, green, yellow or blue, but between different shades of brown-brown-bronze. There is a suggestion box on the first floor of the tower that receives these choices. Initially, the tower was brown-red. Later, it took on a yellow-ocher tone before finding its definitive color in the brown palette.

 

After the completion of the tower, and after having witnessed its success, most of the distinguished petition signatories apologized for their short-sightedness. However, Guy de Maupassant made it his honorable duty to frequently dine at the feet of the tower, which was—according to him—the only place in Paris where the structure could not be seen.

 

Related post:

Paris of the 1870s: Risen From the Ashes

 

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beraud

The advertising columns have been an integral part of the Paris boulevard landscape. They hide a story

In The French Art of Drinking without Getting Drunk, we read that Parisians consumed large quantities of drink in public places. It follows that they had to frequently part with excess liquid. Before 1834, they could avail themselves of the services of self-appointed street hygienists who, clad in a leather apron, paced the public places offering a pail. However, money wasted on the men in leather aprons could be better spent on more drinking, and, besides, the pee-man himself could be lounging in some café and drinking away his earnings. Most men simply relieved themselves where the need overtook them and the city stank.

earlu

An early public urinal in alloy

Around 1770, an order was issued to homeowners to install wooden barrels at street corners to serve as urinals. These were useful, but they lacked sophistication and, often, they lacked altogether. In 1834, the Paris City Hall introduced the first public urinals. Unlike the barrels and the men with pails, they were always there, and they were free. The expense of caring for 478 public conveniences proved to be ruinous to the city budget; they needed to generate some income. In 1839, a new design was introduced: an advertising column with the urinal inside. It was a superb idea. By 1868, street columns appeared that served only for advertising and they have been a part of the Parisian street furniture to this day.

beaumarchais

A successful new version added advertising

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The columns generated so much income that their dual function was abandoned and the urinal design developed separately. This one served five men at once

 

The website Vintage Everyday offers a diverting gallery of the Parisian pissotières in all their surprising variety.

 

Related posts:

The French Art of Drinking without Getting Drunk

The Government of Paris Will Sell Your Crinoline

The Government of Paris: A Success Story

 

 

 

 

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Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, photo by Nadar

The brothers Goncourt were to 19th century Paris what Samuel Pepys was to 17th century London. Inseparable since birth, never married, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt went through life as a single mind until the premature death of Jules in 1870. They co-authored six novels, but are remembered chiefly for their diaries beginning in 1851. At home in the literary circles as well as in high society, the brothers gathered local gossip and their biting comments are a delight to read. The entries are remarkably sincere and colourful, sparing no one including the authors. The journals end in 1896, the year of Edmond’s death at the age of 74. By the terms of his will, he endowed the Goncourt Academy which has been awarding yearly the prestigious Prix Goncourt for the best novel.

Quotes

Today I begin to understand what love must be, if it exists. When we are parted, we each feel the lack of the other half of ourselves. We are incomplete like a book in two volumes of which the first has been lost. That is what I imagine love to be: incompleteness in absence. Jules de Goncourt

Man is a mind betrayed, not served, by his organs. Edmond de Goncourt

***

Posts quoting The Goncourt Journals:

How to Succeed in Paris

Dinner with Courtesans

Degrees of Prostitution

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