Can you picture Paris without the Eiffel Tower? I can. And so can many Parisians.
The truth is that I don’t really like the landmark and – while I’m blowing your mind – here’s another confession: I lived in Paris for 6 months without even so much as one step on the steel metal icon.
I know, I know.
“But why Emily? What has the Eiffel Tower ever done to you?”
In truth, nothing. The tower is not really what I dislike so much as the American or tourist perception of it.
Unfortunately, many Americans romanticize the Eiffel Tower in part because of some really sneaky myths that have been floating around cinema, photography, and art for years. But I think it’s finally time to debunk them and replace them with some better Parisian ideals, so here we go:
Myth: The Eiffel Tower is in the center of Paris
I know, you’re gasping for breath. You cannot fathom a Paris without the Eiffel Tower in the center, but the Eiffel tower is actually not Paris’ central monument – Notre Dame is.
If you look at a map of Paris, you can see that the neighborhoods or arrondissements spiral outward around a little island in the middle of the Seine called, “île de la cité.” Historically, this island was the original Paris, and Notre Dame sits right in front of its “gound zero.”
You can actually go stand on the “center of paris” point in Paris right in front of the old cathedral, but you wont see the Eiffel Tower anywhere near you. Why’s that? The Eiffel Tower is actually off to the southwest corner of the city in the 7th arrondissement.
“But you can still see it from anywhere in Paris, right?” Nope.
Myth: The Eiffel Tower is really REALLY tall
There’s this idea that everywhere in Paris has a grand view of the Eiffel Tower. This is just silly.
Knowing that the Eiffel Tower is not in the center of Paris is half the story, but the other half is just that the Eiffel Tower is not that tall.
New York’s skyscrapers dwarf the tower. And its thinness makes it even more transparent – kind of just like a little pokey in the Paris skyline.
Here’s the view of the Eiffel Tower from 4 stories up at the Centre Pompidou:
So if this is the view you get from 4 stories up in almost the center of the city, just imagine how frequently you see the Eiffel Tower on your daily jaunt about Paris.
Myth: It has the best views in the city
The panorama I used for the cover photo of this post is taken from Sacre Coeur in the 18th Arrondissement. I think this view is infinitely more breathtaking than the Eiffel Tower’s. Other friends of mine have preferred the view from atop Notre Dame, the Tour Montparnasse, or the Centre Pompidou.
I have yet to hear from anyone who prefers the view from the Eiffel Tower’s observation deck after viewing Paris from any other location.
Perhaps the only thing I’ve enjoyed about the snapshots taken from atop the Eiffel Tower is that you can’t see the Eiffel Tower in them… of course, as I mentioned before, that’s true of most anywhere in Paris (outside of Hollywood).
Myth: It is romantic
I can’t count the number of engagement photos I’ve seen taken at the Eiffel Tower, but the reasoning has always escaped me.
Gustave Eiffel never intended for his tower (and yes, he called it his tower) to be romantic. It was a statement of strength and power; he compared it to egyptian pyramids.
The most romantic minds in Paris were actually sternly against the tower:
“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection… of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower…” -Committee of Three Hundred (including Charles Garnier, Guy de Maupassant, and Adolphe Bouguereau)
Taking Paris to New Heights
To be totally fair, I don’t really hate the Eiffel Tower intrinsically. The real reason I don’t like it is because it distracts tourists from the parts of Paris that I really love — it creates a fictional Paris that is nothing like the one I wish to share with the world.
Maybe the Parisians enjoy this. Keeping their beautiful city hidden behind the shadow of a massive metal structure, drawing all the tourists to it like some sort of fly-catching light-trap.
But if you’ll entertain me for a moment, I’d like to share with you just 3 of the many Parisian landmarks you’re unlikely to find in a cinematic representation of the city, but landmarks that I’ll argue are just as worth your time.
Marché des enfants rouges (which I mention as a top destination for the foodie on a budget) is also one of my favorite unconventional Parisian landmarks. It exemplifies so much of what I love about Paris: food, artisans, community.
La Pagode is one of Paris’ most stunning arthouse movie theaters. Japanese gardens, silken walls, and 19th-century Japanese style grace this gorgeous cinema on rue de Babylone. It’s not only a fitting tribute to Paris’ cinematic legacy, but also full of history.
The Institut du Monde Arabe and the Mosquée de Paris are almost too special independently to be grouped together, but they both represent a large population of Paris that is often underrepresented in the media. The Institut is an architectural masterpiece that could make the Eiffel Tower look like chicken scratch and it also houses some of the most amazing exhibits on Arab countries. The Mosquée nearby offers incredible ethnic cuisine in the same theme.
So the next time you gaze lovingly at a picture of the Eiffel Tower in a guide book, longing to slap on a béret, grab a crêpe, and walk up to the observation deck, I hope you’ll remember that that tower is just a little speck of dust in Paris’ vast cultural landscape.
How do you feel about the Eiffel Tower? How about a popular landmark in your own town? Let me know in the comments!