Belle Epoque,  Paris,  Podcast

PGB 6:   Visit the Eiffel Tower In 1889!

Join us as we visit the Eiffel Tower when it opened in 1889!  Using a guide from the Exposition Universelle, we see the tower from a different view.  How did they describe this new colossus?  What did it cost to visit?  How could you get there?  And most importantly, were there toilets?  Hop in our time machine as we go back to the opening of the Eiffel Tower!

Whew!  Do your feet hurt after all of that exploring? I think I would have taken the elevators and not the stairs.  Especially wearing all of the layers required of a woman in 1889!

What you would do?  How do you think you would have felt beholding the Eiffel Tower in an age before skyscrapers?  Let us know below!

The Guide

I discovered this guide while I was researching the last podcast episode about Gustave Eiffel’s apartment on the tower. It was too fun to ignore!

Want to check out the original text?  Here are the pages used in the episode: 

If you would like to read the whole guide, you can find it on the Haithi Trust site.  As mentioned during the podcast, the guide is a product of its time.  Like many works from the 19th century, some content may uncomfortable or objectionable for some readers. 

Taking A Look

We’ve heard about it.  We’ve read it about it.  Now let’s take a look at the Eiffel Tower!

The Mysterious Meridian

The mention of the meridian running through the Eiffel Tower caught me by surprise.  I have a notoriously bad sense of direction but even I know that the Prime Meridian doesn’t run through Paris (though I did doubt myself and consult the gooogles!). And the “French Meridian” (aka the one that Dan Brown is obsessed with but had in the wrong location) is to the east, running through the Louvre. You can follow it through Paris by looking for the “Arago” markers on the ground. Find a map here.

It was gratifying to know that 1. I was right despite my directional challenges and 2. the guide was right (if confusing). Check out that sweet meridian:

Satellite image of Eiffel Tower showing how the meridian runs down the middle of the tower.
Accident? Or Intentional?

But is the guide right about it being an accident? I think Gustave would have liked the symmetry, personally. 😀

The Exposition Universelle

How can we get to the expo? What was it like? The guide helps navigate us through the experience. Here we go!

Transit

As frequent readers know, I love transit history. How people moved around is endlessly fascinating! It impacted pretty much every aspect of a person’s life, from where they worked to what they ate. Transportation’s role in history cannot be overstated.

But for now, we’re just looking at our options to get to the Exposition Universelle!

Omnibus

Our first option is the omnibus. This was a usually double-decker horse-drawn conveyance of immense size and is the precursor to the modern bus.

Hop on up!
Tram

Like buses, modern Paris also has trams. But those are not horse-drawn affairs! Here we have a tram from about 1890, just a few years before electric trams were introduced in the city. Notice the different wheels. Trams ran on rail tracks, giving them a dedicated route and a smoother passenger experience. The omnibus on cobblestones would have been rather bumpy!

I want to hear what this sounded like, with the horse hooves, the wheels running in the tracks, and the rumble of all of that weight.
Steamers

Rather take the river? Paris had that too! There were steam boats for the general public. And some were unique to the fair, sponsored by the Grand Magasins du Louvre (now defunct, on rue de Rivoli), who managed the ticketing for those specials bateaux. Here we have the boat for the regular folks:

Supposedly in front of the Spanish Pavilion, possibly taken from the pont de l’Alma. Not my most certain information, but old photos are some times a bit tricksy.
Train Station

If you weren’t already in Paris, you most likely arrived there by train. And then you had to navigate the transit system from there. Bon chance!

And we thought navigating Paris was hard now…

In addition to the buses, trams, boats, and trains, you had taxis (most of the carriages above are probably taxis), or you could go on foot. Do watch out for horse droppings!

The Fair

Now that we’ve arrived at the fair, what was the tower like? Let’s work our way up the colossus!

First, we need to get our bearings. The tower is represented by its gigantic feet:

Need more detail? Click here for a larger version.

Did we need a map to find her? Probably not. 😉 Now we can head toward the Iron Lady! I do miss being able to just walk right under her, without the modern security barrier.

I would definitely be wielding a parasol against the summer sun!

After we buy our red ticket for the first floor, we can take one of the lifts (or the stairs, if you are feeling physically fit). This style of elevator was rather quickly replaced. Even though seating sounds nice, imagine how slow it would have been to load!

Is it weird no one is looking out the windows?

After our trip up the jambe in the lift, we have arrived at the platforms. We can now look out over all of Paris at a height previously only achieved by hot air balloon!

A View To A…not so lovely part of western Paris. However, I wish this décor still existed on the tower!

Once we’ve fully explored the tower, you can descend and enjoy the rest of this incredible world’s fair! Maybe you’ll catch Buffalo Bill’s show?

Twice daily!

Eiffel Tower Today

The Eiffel Tower is open to the public and back to being super crowded. If you want to visit the tower, I strongly recommend buying your tickets in advance. Especially if you are traveling at peak times. Tickets are available two months in advance, so mark your calendar!

Before You Go

Buy Your Tickets. There are several kinds of tickets at various price levels with different amounts of access. See current prices here.

  1. 1st and 2nd Floor Combo Ticket with Elevators. This means you do not have access to the 3rd floor or the peek-a-boo apartment tableau.
  2. All 3 Floor Floors with Elevators. This is the full meal deal! All the way to the top. You will take an elevator to the 2nd floor and have to switch to a different elevator for the 3rd floor. This does mean more waiting in line.
  3. 1st and 2nd Floor Combo Ticket by Stairs (No Elevators). Feeling healthy? Claustrophobic? Can’t find another ticket? Looking to save some cash? The stairs are for you! These can only be bought day-of at the ticket office.
  4. 1st and 2nd Floor Combo Ticket by Stairs (No Elevators) + 3rd Floor (with elevator). Mercifully, you will ride the elevator to the third floor. Also only available at the ticket office, day of.

It’s best to get tickets directly through the tower. But if you can’t find any during your visit, there are plenty of tour companies that you can book a tour through. Check out your favorite guide book for recommendations.

Set Aside Time. Getting in requires two trips through security: One to get under the tower and one to get into the tower. Plus waiting in line for the elevators. Emotionally prepare.

Read the tower’s handy “Plan a Smooth Visit” Guide to help you get ready!

Getting There. There are multiple ways to get to the tower, including Metro/RER, bus, boat, car, bike, and of course foot. Watch out for the crotte de chien on the sidewalks!

Further Exploration

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases of items marked “affiliate link” below.

Need to keep going down the Eiffel and Expo rabbit hole? I can help with that!

Eiffel’s Tower: The Thrilling Story Behind Paris’s Beloved Monument and the Extraordinary World’s Fair That Introduced It by Jill Jonnes. Available on Kindle and in paperback [both affiliate links], this is the story behind the Expo and the Tower. It’s in the style of Erik Larson’s books, but with a lower body count!

Jonnes has also released a version for teens, “Eiffel’s Tower for Young People (For Young People Series) [affiliate link].” Adapted by Rebecca Stefoff, this is a more straightforward version of the content, with nice pullouts and contextual notes. I personally don’t think it’s just for teens. It’s simply a nice, easy overview! I would stick with the print version. The Kindle version looks a little messy.

The Eiffel Tower: Timeless Monument. A gorgeous souvenir book published by the Eiffel Tower team, it’s actually a two-in-one book. One side tells the story of the Eiffel Tower. The other side explores how she has become a “universal icon.” Paper back only [affiliate link].

As you could see, the English language was not illustrated. However, in French, we have a treasure trove of guides, including this Guide illustré de l’Exposition universelle de 1889. Filled with not just illustrations of the expo, but lovely advertisements in the Belle Epoque style. Free from Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France). The other two guides mentioned at the beginning are Plan officiel de l’Exposition universelle de 1889 (free from Internet Archive) and the Catalogue Général Officiel (also from Internet Archive).

For the person who has it all, you can buy a rivet made of iron from the tower itself. It is a limited-edition gift sold through the Eiffel Tower site. Only 600 were supposedly made. At the time of writing, it is, however, an impressive €525! Sadly not an affiliate link. 😉

Curious about the 2025 Expo? Start making your travel plans for Osaka, Japan!

Conclusion 

Alas, it’s time to leave the fair. What did you think? Would you have wanted to attend one of these great expos of the 19th century? Would you have gone for the giant tower or maybe for some of the technology pavillons? Or perhaps the art or cultural buildings? It would be very different how we view the world now!

Let us know below what exhibits you would take in. And if you would pay the 25 centimes for the water closet with lavabo. I’ll be looking for the best fair food!

À bientôt!

M


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Image Credits

Header: “Exposition Universelle de Paris 1889.” Held at Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt. Wikimedia Commons. Posted by Paris 16. Public Domain.
Google Eiffel Tower Meridian: Underlying Google Satellite Map. ©2022 Google. Additional markup by author.
Omnibus:Omnibus à impériale à trois chevaux de La Compagnie Générale d’Ominibus (CGO) vers 1890, ligne D, Filles-du-Calvaire/Les Ternes.” Photographer unknown. Wikimedia Commons. Posted by Siren-Com. Public Domain.
Tram:Tramway hippomobile CGO” Carte postale. Wikimedia Commons. Posted by Claude Villetaneuse. Public Domain. 
Steamer: France, Paris, Universal Exhibition 1889, castle along the Seine, steamboat” Image for sale at Abebooks.fr, as of June 2022.
Expo Map: Exposition universelle de 1889. Plan général des divers palais. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE C-1070. Public Domain.
Walking Up to the Tower: Crowd of people walking under the base of Eiffel Tower, view toward the Central Dome, Paris Exposition. Paris France, 1889. Photograph. Library of Congress, item 92519777. Public Domain.
Tower Elevator: Eiffel-Otis lift-poyet” Image from May 4, 1889, vol. 17. p 360 of La Nature. Drawn by [?] Poyet. From WIkimedia Commons. Posted by TheLongTone. Public Domain.
View from Eiffel Tower. View of Exposition Universelle from Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1889. Wikimedia Commons. From the Library of Congress  Tissandier Collection. Posted by BotMultichillT. Public Domain.
Buffalo Bill Poster:Buffalo Bill’s wild west show. 1888-1905” Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Arts du spectacle, FOL-ICO CIR-46. Public Domain.

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