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Glass floor at Eiffel Tower

The first level has a see-through floor and an ‘immersive’ film; we mark the event with 10 curious facts about the Dame de Fer

MAYOR of Paris Anne Hidalgo joined several hundred guests yesterday, including Gustave Eiffel’s great-great granddaughter, for the official opening of the new-look first floor of the Eiffel Tower – complete with its breath-taking glass floor.

Champion show-jumper Virginie Coupéret-Eiffel and her husband, actor Charles Berling, were among some 250 guests and 85 journalists at the event – where the public were also able to enjoy the view through the full glass floor down to the ground 57m below.

The event officially launched €30million of renovations to the first floor, including replacing the 1980s "pavillions" at either side of the floor with new glass-sided ones offering great views over the city.

One, which can seat 200 or hold 300 standing, makes for an unusual space to hire for business meetings or events. Another houses a shop and restaurant, upstairs spaces for “relaxation and contemplation” and an “immersive” film about the tower and its history, with seven projectors projecting overlapping images onto large screens in front and at the sides.

There is a “cultural walk” around the first floor, including touch-screens and other materials about Gustave Eiffel and his work (in French and English) and the tower as “a symbol of modernisation of the world”.

The tower has also gone greener. Four solar panels and two little wind turbines were installed on the first floor so the tower generates part of the power needed to run the floor. A rainwater collection system was also put in, to be used for the toilets in the pavilions.

It is hoped that the revamp, by Paris architects Moatti-Rivière, will boost the first floor’s popularity with visitors – until now around half have bypassed it.

Opened in 1889, the tower marks its 125th anniversary this year. With almost seven million visitors a year it is the worlds most popular paid-for historic monument. The top three nationalities are French (13.3%), American (8.8%) and British (7.4%).

Although yesterday saw the official launch, the first floor never actually closed to the public during the renovations, said a spokeswoman for the management company. “It didn’t ‘open’ as such yesterday because people were able to keep discovering it at the same time as the work progressed; once we put the first pieces of glass in place they could start trying them out. From one week to the next they could discover parts they didn’t have access to the week before.”

Did you know?

• The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World Fair which marked the centenary of the Storming of the Bastille and it was its main symbol - and the entrance to the fair. Nearly two million came to see it. Other attractions included a reconstruction of the Bastille. At the time it was the highest tower in the world and, at 324m, it is still the highest construction in France.

• At night it was lit up by hundreds of gas lights and at the top there was a lighthouse lamp flashing red, white and blue that circled round it, carried by a little train. The fair was opened and closed by a cannon being fired from the top.

• Among the first visitors were actress Sarah Bernhardt, the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) and the Princess of Wales, the Shah of Persia and Buffalo Bill.

• Eiffel installed an office at the top for himself where he entertained VIP guests, including Thomas Edison, who gave him a gift of a new phonograph (music player) he had invented. He also once invited opera composer Charles Gounod for a coffee after spotting him dining in one of the tower’s restaurants – Gounod had previously signed a petition by artists against the tower being built.

• Numerous other intellectuals had spoken against the tower before it was finished – including Paris opera architect Charles Garnier and the writers Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant. Some critics complained that it looked like “a big giraffe full of holes”. Local shopkeepers started a petition for it to be destroyed – and originally it was only intended to be temporary. Fortunately, however, it won most people over quite quickly.

• In the past the tower has been painted different colours – first red, then at various times yellow and even blue, before being given its current bronze shade.

• Alain Ducasse’s Jules Verne restaurant, 125m above the ground, sees an average of two marriage proposals a day.

• There was tragedy in 1912 when a French tailor of Austrian origin, François Reichelt, leaped from the first floor to test a “bat-suit” of his own design, and plunged straight down to the frosty ground. He had permission to go up to test it using a dummy, but was not stopped by police when he arrived – sans dummy – to throw himself off. An old video can be found on the internet, where he can be seen hesitating, then jumping off.

• In happier circumstances – also videoed – Taig Khris set the world record for highest jump on rollerskates when he jumped down onto a ramp from the first floor in 2010.

• The lift mechanism is still the same as when the tower opened and the leather-covered piston joints have to be regularly softened with beef dripping – the same kind used to cook Belgian fries.

Photo: Michel Denancé

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