With an average of around 25,000 queuing to climb its stairs each day, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most popular paid monuments in the world. If today the tower is one of the most iconic Parisian symbols of all time, rumour has it that the tower was nearly built in an entirely different place.
So how did one of the world’s most famous landmarks come into being in the first place? The Eiffel Tower was built in time for the 1889 World Fair or Exposition Universelle which took place in Paris. It may be hard to believe these days but the tower was originally conceived as a temporary exhibit which would be taken down some time after the fair.
Although the tower gets its name from the engineer, Gustave Eiffel, who owned the company who designed the tower, it was actually two other engineers – Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier – who played the biggest part in its design. In fact, Eiffel apparently was rather unenthusiastic about the plans the first time he saw them.
If these days the Eiffel Tower has become synonymous with the French capital, as much a part of its identity as the Seine river, a persistent rumour suggests that the tower nearly didn’t get built in Paris at all. Rather, some have suggested that the Eiffel Tower was almost built some 1,000km away in the Spanish city of Barcelona.
According to the rumour, Eiffel and his company pitched the designs for the tower to the Catalan capital before the Parisian World Fair of 1889. In fact, Barcelona hosted its own version of the World Fair the year before, in 1888, called the Universal Exposition of Barcelona.
However, according to those who support the theory, the local authorities in Barcelona turned down the proposal, worrying that it would be an unsightly addition to the landscape that would prove unpopular with locals.
If the rumour is true – there’s no official documentation to support the theory despite its ongoing popularity – then this would certainly have been a costly mistake for the city of Barcelona. The Eiffel Tower is currently valued at around 400 billion dollars and is one of the world’s most visited paid monuments: in 2015, nearly 7 million people visited the landmark.
Thankfully Barcelona has its own share of popular monuments, such as the Sagrada Família: the astounding church designed by Antoni Gaudí, which attracts some 3 million visitors a year. In fact, the city’s architecture is one of the main reasons people visit the city: from its Modernist marvels to the historic buildings of the Gothic Quarter.
It’s hard to imagine the Eiffel Tower anywhere else than Paris, so symbolic of the city and everything it stands for has the monument become. And yet, if the rumours are true, the Iron Lady may well not have been Parisian at all. Which begs the question: would the Eiffel Tower really have become the iconic landmark it is today if it had been built anywhere but Paris?