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

The history of the Eiffel Tower starts with a humiliating military defeat. 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 on September 19. The Siege of Paris lasted over four months, until January 28, 1871. It was a difficult 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 agreed on 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 hardship in Paris before the rebels were defeated.

What does the Commune have to do with the history of the Eiffel Tower?, we hear you ask. Well, subsequently, in the 1870s, France was struggling to regain its pride, its stability, to understand its place in the world. Before the Franco-Prussian War, in 1867, Napoleon III had commissioned the Exposition Universelle on the Champs de Mars to show off the glory of modern France and his empire. Dozens of nations participated.

A few years after after the Commune, in 1878, in an attempt to bolster its flagging spirits, France held another Exposition Universelle on the Champs de Mars. Results were good, spirits raised a little, so, a Grande Exposition was planned for 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.

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

Champ de Mars & The History of the Eiffel Tower

Champ de Mars

Like the previous Expositions Universelles the 1889 World's Fair was to be held on the Champs de Mars, a military parade field located in front of the military school. The École Militaire (seen in the above photo) was founded in 1750 with the support of the famous Madame de Pompadour and 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 stage military drills was needed and a 119-acre parcel located between the École Militaire and the Seine was set aside for this purpose. A facade was eventually erected around the grounds. This was the Champ de Mars, named after the Roman god of war, but used not just for military purposes. In 1783 the world's first hydrogen-filled balloon was launched from there. International Expositions were held there 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.

Seventy years later, for the expositions, massive structures were built to house the various national displays. In 1878 the main building covered 54 acres. Once the expositions closed the buildings were removed.


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More Eiffel Tower Planning Tips

The Best Way To Visit The Eiffel Tower

Skip the Looong Lines

Best Way To Visit The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is the most visited monument in the work, 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 will whisk 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 But True 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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