Day 401: The Eiffel Towerses

originally published February 4, 2013

In my (albeit limited) experience, the buildings that have earned the reputation of being among the world’s best usually live up to the hype. The CN Tower in Toronto pierces the sky like a deranged steel phallus, the Empire State Building’s mastery of art deco ensures New York will never become too cold and modern for its own good, and Telus Plaza in Edmonton, where I work, is just as ugly in real life as it looks in photos.

Then there’s the Eiffel Tower, which rises like a strikingly cool fountain of intricately woven lattice above Paris, offering some of the most lens-liquefyingly exquisite views of France’s boldest metropolis. Such an incredible architectural accomplishment is truly a unique volume within the world’s library of magnificent structure.

Well, sort of. The word ‘unique’ might need to be yanked from that sentence. ‘Cause it totally isn’t.

There are more than thirty Eiffel-ish Towers around the world, all emulating Gustave Eiffel’s contribution to the 1889 World’s Fair. The original – the one that ends up on the postcards – is about 1050 feet tall. Most of its impersonators don’t quite match up.

Long Ta, also known as the Dragon Tower, thrusts its might far beyond Gustave’s Parisian masterpiece, topping out at 1102 feet above Heilongjiang, China. It’s the second-tallest freestanding lattice tower in the world, after the Kiev TV Tower, which looks less like an Eiffel and more like a 50’s-era rocket-ship clone that wouldn’t look particularly out of place in Disney’s Tomorrowland.

Built in 2000, Long Ta certainly takes advantage of the obvious eat-a-meal-in-the-sky opportunity for a restaurant, but was originally intended to be nothing more than a TV and telecommunications tower.

The same can be said for Tokyo Tower, which is as much a Tokyo landmark as the Shibuya district, the Imperial Palace, or a mopey Bill Murray hitting on Scarlett Johansson. Unlike Paris’s regal and distinguished grey tower, the Tokyo structure is painted in traffic-cone orange with white stripes, so as to comply with air-traffic regulations. It does break the 1090-foot mark though, making it the only other tower besides Long Ta to beat the Eiffel at its own game, height-wise.

The one thing the Tokyo Tower has that its Parisian brother lacks is what they call ‘look-down windows’. Up in the observation tower you can grab hold of an extra slab of vertigo by looking straight down at the 100-story drop. Puke-bags are available for an additional charge.

From the sky-spearing height of 1090 feet, we dip right away down to the 541-foot mark, for the first Eiffel Tower that looks so much like the original, it’s actually called the Eiffel Tower. It’s even located in Paris – or to be accurate, the Paris Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The original plan was to build this replica to the same height as the original, but the airport is just a few blocks away, and they had to settle for a half-size replica.

The Nagoya TV Tower in Japan and the Funkturm TV and radio tower in Berlin are similar structures, falling just behind the Las Vegas tourist attraction in height. The one common thread between these kissers of the atmosphere has been their iron and steel structure. At 535 feet, the Ismaning Radio Tower in Ismaning, Germany was different. It was made out of wood.

Needless to say, this tower contained no restaurant, it contained no tourist-friendly observation deck, it contained no plummeting elevator from which Superman could save Lois Lane in Superman II. It was a radio tower, nothing more. And when a steel tower was built in 1977 to handle th     e same task, the Ismaning Radio Tower’s days became numbered. It was leveled in 1983, making it the tallest Eiffel-like structure to be flattened.

Back to China again, to the Window of the World theme park in Shenzhen. The 354-foot (roughly 1:3 scale) Eiffel Tower is just one of about 130 reproductions of famous structures around the world located at this park. They’ve got an Acropolis, they’ve got a Buckingham Palace, they’ve got an Angkor Wat. This park has reproduced the Sydney Opera House, the Sphinx, and the entire skyline of Manhattan (pre-2001).

It’s a great tourist attraction if you’d really rather see a bunch of other tourist attractions, but don’t want to spend the money or the time.

Both the Kings Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio and the Kings Dominion amusement park in Doswell, Virginia constructed Eiffel Tower replicas in the 70’s in order to lure tourists to their respective dens of rollery coasters and cottonish candy. Over in Lyon, France, the Metallic Tower of Fourvière started out as a monument to the church and ended up a TV tower.

As we go down the list the towers get smaller and smaller, and beneath the 208-foot Petrin Lookout Tower in the Czech Republic, they begin to adopt more frequently the name of the structure they aim to imitate. Durango, Mexico, Slobozia, Romania, and Chelyabinsk, Russia all have Eiffel Towers between 164 and 190 feet.

Watkin’s Tower in London was to be built even higher than the Eiffel Tower, but this was around the turn of the 20th century, and the builders didn’t really know what they were doing. They made it to 154 feet before the legs threatened to collapse and the project had to be scrapped.

The replica in the France pavilion at Disney’s EPCOT park is only 76 feet high. Ten feet taller (but wearing a cowboy hat!) is the Eiffel Tower replica in Paris, Texas. There are fifteen Parises in the United States, but only the ones in Texas, Tennessee and Michigan have opted to erect an Eiffel.

The list trickles onward, finishing up with the replica situated at the Sahil Shopping Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, as part of the signage for the Parfums de France shop. This one is only about ten feet high – any smaller and we’re entering the realm of just being a toy.

I suppose a great idea simply invites imitation. The tower that numerous notable Parisians protested, and thousands more screamed to have torn down once it had served its purpose as a World’s Fair headline-maker, has become one of the most imitated landmarks on the planet.

I think the Texans got it right though. These towers all need hats.

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