Little Known and Surprising Facts About the Eiffel Tower

After spending three weeks in France, I came home energized and exhausted, if that makes sense. I’m eager to share some of my trip but this week I’ve been catching up on the business of living my actual life, not the fantasy life that I live while traveling. That being the case, I thought I’d share a few surprising facts about the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower

Color Me Beautiful

Since its construction, the Eiffel Tower has donned 7 different colors. Here is a timeline:

  • 1887, Venise Red
  • 1889, Redish Brown
  • 1892, Brownish Ochre
  • 1900, Gradation of colors (from orange at the base to light yellow at the top)
  • 1907, Brownish Yellow
  • 1954, Brownish Red
  • 1968, Eiffel Tower Brown
Colors of the Eiffel Tower

The tower is repainted about every 7 years and is currently undergoing a deeper cleanse. In many areas of the giant structure, workers are stripping off all previous 19 coats of paint. The current color is being replaced with a shade of yellow-brown that Gustave Eiffel allegedly preferred. The work has been ongoing since 2019 but the pandemic and high concentrations of lead have slowed the landmark’s latest makeover.

Some reports claim that the tower is riddled with rust and that the effort to finish the project before the 2024 Olympic Games is preventing much-needed repairs. As is, the cosmetic facelift is expected to cost $60 million and when finished the Eiffel will sport a beautiful new shade of gold.

Painter working on the Eiffel Tower
Painter working on the Eiffel Tower.

Breathing as well as Breathtaking

Given that the Eiffel Tower is constructed out of wrought iron beams, it may not come as a surprise to learn that it shrinks and expands with the changing seasons. In the winter, freezing temperatures cause the tower to contract and summer heat causes it to grow. The difference in height between these two seasons ranges between 6 to 7 inches.

This phenomenon, however, also provokes a slight inclination away from the side of the tower that faces the sun. The highest deviation of this nature took place in 1976 when the top of the tower inclined 18 cm. Fortunately, such variations have zero impact on the stability of the structure and are imperceptible to observers.

Built to Last for 20 Years

The Eiffel Tower was built as one of the main attractions at the 1889 World’s Fair. The city of Paris planned to dismantle La dame de fer after 20 years—the point at which Gustave Eiffel’s permit to use the property expired. Not wanting to see his monumental beauty destroyed, Eiffel funded the installation of a meteorology laboratory on the third and highest stage of the tower. There, scientists conducted a wide variety of experiments and recorded myriad meteorological and astronomical observations.

By creating a lab that boasted equipment and conditions unavailable anywhere else in the world, Eiffel managed to save his tower which remained the tallest structure in the world until the Chrysler Building opened in New York in 1930. By that time, the Eiffel Tower had become a world-renowned landmark. The initial negative reaction of many Parisians—that it was a monumental eyesore that clashed with the surrounding architecture—had long since dissipated.

Gustave Eiffel's Laboratory
Gustave Eiffel’s Laboratory

The Tower Narrowly Escaped Destruction

At the end of World War II, as Allied forces were nearing Paris, Adolph Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltiz to destroy the city. Von Choltitz was serving as the military governor of Paris. Hitler’s telegraphed order was categorical, « Paris ne peut tomber entre les mains de l’ennemi ou seulement comme un champ de ruines ».

Accounts of what happened next vary widely. In his memoir, published in 1950, Von Choltitz claimed that he saved the French capital by refusing to obey Hitler’s demand. This version of history is bolstered by the 2014 French film Diplomatie, starring Niels Arestrup. But documentary filmmaker, Françoise Cros de Fabrique, was skeptical of the story. After conducting his own investigation, he released Détruire Paris, les plans secrets d’Hitler in 2019, transforming von Choltitz’s testimony into myth.

The documentary provides ample evidence that von Choltiz was a disciplined officer who hated the French. Before surrendering, he ordered the mining of several of the city’s monuments and bridges. The explosives were later dismantled by French police. If von Choliz failed to destroy Paris, it was because he was running out of time and troops to carry out his orders. In the end, he accepted the ceasefire presented to him by Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling to save his own skin, not the city.

Despite the ceasefire agreement, Hitler was not about to give up and so ordered missile strikes, hoping to turn Paris to powder. Nazi General Hans Speidel claimed that he failed to carry out the order because he found the idea of destroying Paris to be absurd. In reality, the strikes were impossible to execute.

Adolf Hitler in Paris, 1940
Adolf Hitler in Paris, 1940

Hitler also ordered Germany’s airforce, the Luftwaffe, to bombard the capital. One hundred and twenty airplanes dropped hundreds of bombs on Paris during the night of August 26, 1944. Missiles were also fired from Belgium. Luckily, such strikes were far from precise and by October 6, Hitler decided to concentrate all bombing efforts on London. (For more about precision bombing, see my review of Malcom Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia.)

Last and Arguably Least

The Eiffel Tower is not France’s most visited attraction. While each year 7 million people pay the entrance fee to climb or ride to its higher platforms, other touristic sites claim to attract more visitors. Versailles welcomes 10 million people per year, Notre Dame attracts 12 to 14 million, the Louvre about 8 million, and Disneyland Paris averages around 12 million visitors per year.

I attribute Eiffel’s lower attendance to its magnificent structure. It’s visible from all over Paris and so can be appreciated from afar. When fully loaded the tower’s three platforms only accommodate 5,000 people. No one returns from a trip to Paris claiming they failed to see the Eiffel Tower, whereas almost everyone fails to see all of the other attractions I’ve mentioned.

I invite you to share your own fun fact or interesting anecdote about the Eiffel Tower in the comments below.

Place du Trocadaro , April 2023
Place du Trocadaro , April 2023

Scandalous Stories from Eiffel Tower History

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, translator, and mother of 3. Avid follower of French media, culture, history, and language. Lover of books, travel, history, art, cooking, fitness, and nature. Cultivating connections with francophiles and francophones.


  1. In my too few visits to Paris, I’ve visited the Eiffel Tower and all the other sites you mentioned except Disneyland.

    The item about the Eiffel Tower that struck me indelibly, I think, was the fact that it turns away from the sun. Like a perverse plant reaching skyward, it spurns photosynthesis.

    Welcome back! Energized is good; exhausted is temporary. I look forward to subsequent posts about this trip.

    • Thanks Annie. Your image of the Eiffel Tower as a perverse plant is perfect. I didn’t like the fact that it was leaning away from the sun but then I rationalized that this was only happening because the sunny side was actually growing while the shaded side shriveled. That helped me cope with the situation.

      I find the Disneyland stats a bit sobering but lots of people love the place including the French. I never seem to make it into the Louvre. The city is packed with dozens (if not hundreds) of smaller galleries and exhibits that continually distract me from going there. More on that soon.

  2. I certainly didn’t know any of these things. If they’ve changed the color so often before, maybe when the new gold paint starts to wear out they can try something more daring, like fuchsia or fluorescent green. I suppose they need a color that doesn’t show dirt easily, given the difficulty of cleaning something that size.

    I can never look at pictures of the Eiffel Tower now without thinking of Franz Reichelt.

    Gustave Eiffel’s meteorology lab idea was brilliant. He created an enduring constituency for preserving the tower, until it had been around long enough to become a landmark in its own right. They’ll never get rid of it now — it must be the most iconic Parisian structure after the Arc de Triomphe and maybe Notre Dame. It will probably last until the rust gets bad enough to produce a risk of collapse, which I guess will take centuries.

    I didn’t realize how close Paris came to being wrecked at the end of World War II or how determined Hitler was to see that done. As Goering said, the Nazis were barbarians and proud of it.

    If I were in France I doubt I would go to Disneyland either. There is so much else to see there, and I wouldn’t spend precious time in a foreign country to visit something essentially the same as what we have in California. For French people it’s something exotic and different, but not for us.

    • The fuchsia and florescent green might need to be reproduced at night with colored spots. They do that kind of thing from time to time.

      Yes, poor Franz Reichelt. When I walked past the Eiffel Tower a few weeks ago, I had to stop for a couple minutes of silent reflection. Given that no one stopped him from jumping that day, I feel like my silent acknowledgment of his devotion somehow contributes to a better balance in the collective consciousness of mankind. But maybe the gesture is more about making myself feel better about exploiting his tragic ending.

      I’d argue that the Eiffel Tower is by far the most iconic Parisian structure.

      I found Cros de Fabrique’s documentary on Youtube. Here’s a link if you care to exercise your French skills:

      Ditto on your Disneyland sentiments.

      • Unfortunately my French is not up to the task of following what’s being said, though I can pick out a fair number of individual words here and there. It is curious how the German names are pronounced in French, but maybe no more so than the way we pronounce them in English.

        I didn’t think your post about Reichelt was exploitative. If anything, he might be glad to know he’s still remembered.

        • Good job taking a look at the film. So, you were able to pick some things out. That’s great. Yes, I think most people mangle the pronunciation of words in languages that aren’t their own. As well as Americans know the Eiffel Tower, if they heard a French person say La Tour Eiffel, they wouldn’t recognize what was said.

          Glad you didn’t find the post on Reichel exploitive. My biggest hesitation was adding the video clip at the end. It felt rather invasive but I put it in because I thought interested readers would search it out on their own anyway.

  3. I first visited Paris when I was seventeen and had no desire to go up the Eiffel Tower, although this was when my love affair with France began. Many, many years later, I returned to Paris with my sons and they insisted that we climb the monument, so I did!
    Some of your facts were new to me. I had no idea that the ET was repainted about every seven years. Thanks for a great blog post!

    • Your story is a bit like mine. I visited Paris briefly at 14 and spent a week there when I was 18. I figured at that time that I’d return every 5 years or so. Thirty three years later, I finally went back and the visit kicked me into supercharged French fanaticism. I think my mother led me and my sister up the tower on that first trip and I climbed it a second time in 2018 with my kids.

      • My initial visit to Paris set the seeds for my future career. I studied French at uni and went on to become a teacher of French. Funny how things work out!

  4. The old Lady is a feature. Of course when I lived in Paris, I never visited. I did, once we moved to Mexico and came back with Mexican friends. We all climbed to the first floor. Or maybe more. Not sure. (I wouldn’t do it any more, LOL)
    Glad you had a good time…
    Bonne semaine Carole

  5. No one has ever said, “This will be durable, I bought it in France”; but, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty still stand…

  6. I wonder; if it had to be built today, what would it look like ? At least, it could be built of stainless steel or aluminium. Cleaning would be enough !
    Many thanks, Carol, and have a great day.

    • Good question. They would likely use materials that didn’t need regular repainting. That job is mind boggling.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • At least, it could be built of stainless steel or aluminium

      I noticed the reference in the post to it being built of wrought iron, and of course the rust issue, but didn’t think to include this in my original comment. Is it really made of iron and not steel? I wouldn’t think plain iron would be strong enough for something that tall. Steel is not exactly a recent invention; the Romans made routine use of it.

      • Several references that I found claim that the tower is made from “puddled iron” which I had never heard of. I too was curious about this and then found that “puddling” is the process of converting pig iron to wrought iron so that’s the term I put in the post.

        I’m guessing that puddled iron was cheaper than steel and since the tower was only expected to stand for 20 years, rust may not have been a consideration.

        • That makes sense. I assume that after all these years they regularly check to make sure how well the structure is holding up.

          I see you, like me, are something of a night owl…..

          • Yes, they do check regularly and I think the structure is very safe but there are also articles in the French press claiming that this latest makeover is woefully inadequate and that far deeper repairs should be underway.

            I’d like to be a morning person but sadly, that is not the case. 🙂

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