The True History of the Eiffel Tower – The Commune & Champ de Mars

The history of the Eiffel Tower starts with a humiliating military defeat. Like this… In 1870, Napoleon III got France into an ill-advised war with militarily-superior Prussia. The first battle of the Franco-Prussian War was on July 31, 1870. It didn't take long for things to go downhill for the emperor. Only a few weeks later, on September 2, the French army was defeated, Napoleon III himself was captured, and the emperor abdicated.

The Prussian army surrounded and laid siege to Paris; it lasted until January 28, 1871. This was a tough period for Parisians, including the many famous Impressionist painters who lived there. Parisians were so pressed for food that they even ate the animals in the zoos. Finally an armistice was hammered out and, in February 1871, the Prussian army withdrew.

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Commune & Expositions

Eiffel Tower

But it wasn't yet over for Parisians. A sort of socialist republic was established in Paris called the Paris Commune. The Commune fought battles with the central French government, causing further deaths and damage in Paris before the rebels were defeated by government troops.

Don't worry, we're getting to the Eiffel Tower. During the 1870s France struggled to regain its pride, its stability, and to understand its place in the world. Before the Franco-Prussian War, in 1867, Napoleon III had commissioned another in a series of Expositions Universelles on the Champs de Mars to trumpet the glories of modern France and of his empire. Dozens of nations from around the world participated.

In an attempt to bolster its flagging spirits France held another Exposition Universelle in 1878, once again on the Champs de Mars. Millions of people attended and French spirits were raised. So, another, even grander exposition was planned for 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.

The organizing committee declared that a grand landmark was needed to celebrate France and its revolution. And — here's where the Eiffel Tower comes in — an engineer named Gustave Eiffel had an idea…

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Back to the Champ de Mars

Champ de Mars Ecole Militaire at night, with the Champ de Mars in the foreground

Like the previous Expositions Universelles the 1889 World's Fair (for that is what the expositions were) was to be held on the Champs de Mars, a military parade ground located in front of the military school. The École Militaire was founded in 1750 with the support of the famous Madame de Pompadour; the building was completed by 1765. Twenty years later the school accepted a young cadet named Napoleon Bonaparte, who managed to graduate in one year instead of two.

A place to practice military drills was needed, so a 48-hectare parcel of land between the École Militaire and the Seine was set aside for this purpose. It was named Champ de Mars, after the Roman god of war. In 1783 the world's first hydrogen-filled balloon was launched from here. International Expositions were held here in 1867, 1878, 1889 and 1900.

More notoriously, it was the site of the Champs de Mars Massacre during the French Revolution. On July 17 1791, a large republican crowd gathered to protest the decision by the National Assembly to retain the king as a constitutional monarch. When the National Guard tried to disperse the crowd stones were thrown, bullets were fired and up to fifty people were dead.

If you were to have visited the champ during certain years of the 19th century you would have found it covered by massive structures to house the various national displays for that year's exposition. In 1878 the main building covered alone 22 hectares. Once the expositions were over the buildings were removed.

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The Left Bank Of Paris – Top Things To Do

Dinner & Cabaret at Paradis Latin Theater
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Chocolate & Pastry Walking Tour of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
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More Eiffel Tower Planning Tips

The Best Way To Visit The Eiffel Tower

Best Way To Visit The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is the most visited monument in the world, and the line-ups are daunting. We know from experience that the best way to avoid the lines is to book a tour before you leave home. Its the way we do it. Your guide whisks you past the crowds, into the elevator, and up the tower. You don't want to waste your time in Paris waiting in lines!

Amazing Facts About The Eiffel Tower

Facts About The Eiffel Tower

250 workers. 2 years 2 months 5 days. 200,000,000 people. 300 meters… A great monument not only has an interesting history, it also has fascinating stories, facts, details and more information than you probably need to know! Three different colors of paint?

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