Tour Montparnasse – Will A New Makeover Mean Increased Popularity?

If there's one thing that unites Parisians and visitors it's dislike of Tour Montparnasse. This 690-foot blocky skyscraper sticks up like a sore thumb above the historic Paris skyline. (Some say it's giving Paris the finger.)

The outcry following its 1973 opening was so great that a ban on further skyscrapers was imposed. A 2008 poll of travelers voted it the second-ugliest building in the world, and the ugliest in Europe. While that might be overstating it a bit, Tour Montparnasse does seem to clash with the Paris skyline.


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The Height of Folly?

Tour Montparnasse from Luxebourg, photo by Mark Craft Tour Montparnasse from Luxebourg, photo by Mark Craft

Tour Montparnasse was the culmination (you might say the "height") of a period of downright bad planning and design decisions in Paris. The rush to modernization plowed highways along the banks of the Seine and saw the destruction of classic buildings, including the historic Gare Montparnasse, which was demolished to make room for Tour Montparnasse and the nondescript modern train station.

In a desperate attempt to hang on to the coattails of a more-beloved Paris attraction, this 1970s homely brick named itself "Tour Montparnasse", trying vainly to remind us of Tour Eiffel. But a name hasn't been able to fool critics, Parisians, or visitors. In 2008 architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in the New York Times, "Not a day goes by, I would guess, that a Parisian strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens doesn't glance up at the lifeless silhouette of the Montparnasse Tower and wish it away. The endlessly repeated joke is that the tower offers the best views in the city because it is the only place from which you cannot see it."

What to Do at Tour Montparnasse

View of Paris from Tour Montparnasse, Wikimedia, photo by getfunky View of Paris from Tour Montparnasse, photo from Wikimedia

All right, enough about the criticism; let's learn about what there is to do if you visit the tour. Given that it's by far the tallest building in Paris (leaving aside the Eiffel Tower) you'd expect it to have a great view of the rest of the city, and that it does. Although Tour Montparnasse is mostly filled with offices, the 56th and 59th floors are open to the public.

On the 56th floor, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, with stunning views in all directions, is a public viewing space. (You are whisked up to the lofty height in the fastest elevator in Europe.) On top, all of Paris is spread out before you — even the Eiffel Tower looks dwarfed in the near distance. For an al fresco experience take the stairs to the 59th floor, where an open-air terrace makes the adventure even more immediate. Tickets are required for access to the viewing floors, which you can buy on site.

Also on the 56th level is restaurant Ciel de Paris, "ceiling of Paris", where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner while taking in the panoramic city view.


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Tour Montparnasse – Changes on the Way

Tour Montparnasse renovation, seen from Champ de Mars Tour Montparnasse renovation illustration, seen from Champ de Mars

Currently Tour Montparnasse is undergoing a huge renovation and energy upgrade in an attempt to make the building more palatable and to give it a "green" edge. The building will be crowned by a multi-story rooftop conservatory, that seems to be intended to sit above the current observation terrace. The rooftop garden addition should look like the illustration above, as it will be viewed from the Champ de Mars with the Ecole Militaire in the foreground.

The lower dozen levels of the tour are slated to be extended outwards, to relieve the blockiness of the structure, and covered in greenery. (See large illustration.) The building is supposed to become largely energy self-sufficient and there's going to be a new exterior, with components of the old exterior somehow being re-used inside.

It's not just the tower that's being revamped. As you can see in the large illustration, the area around the tour is also getting a makeover, with a new open plaza between the tour and the Gare Montparnasse.


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Tour Montparnasse Resources

Tour Montparnasse Tour Montparnasse & environs

  • 210 metres tall
  • 59 floors
  • 2 million visitors a year
  • Observation floors open 7 days a week
  • 9:30 AM to 10:30 PM Sunday to Thursday ; 9:30 AM to 11 PM Friday to Saturday
  • 33 avenue du Maine, 15th Arrondissement
  • Metro – Montparnasse-Bienvenüe

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