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As one of the world's most recognizable landmarks, attracting around six million visitors every year, it's important for the Eiffel Tower to always look its best. And it's located in Paris – arguably the most fashionable city on the planet – so it just wouldn't do for the Eiffel Tower to have peeling or discolored paint. But there's a more important reason why the Parisian monument has been repainted 19 times since its construction in 1889.
The Eiffel Tower is made of puddle (wrought) iron, which means the monument should endure for centuries as long as it is protected from oxidation and other damaging factors such as pollution and bird droppings. This theoretical longevity involves keeping the iron covered with several layers of paint. In accordance with the wishes of Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed the structure, approximately every seven years, the paint is stripped, the metal is cleaned, and rust-proofing agents are applied before the final coats of paint go on.
Just as it was done more than a century ago, this process is completed almost entirely by hand by around 50 specialist painters – no mean feat for a structure with a height of 1,083 feet (330 m) and a surface area of 2.6 million ft² (250,000 m²). Approximately 66 tons (60 tonnes) of paint are required for the operation, which typically lasts around 18 months.
Keeping "The Iron Lady" looking her best:
- The Eiffel Tower opened in 1889 as the centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle, a world’s fair commemorating the centennial of the French Revolution. It was the tallest man-made structure for 41 years, until the completion of NYC’s Chrysler Building in 1930.
- The Tower has changed color multiple times. It has had its current bronze-brown color since 1968, but has formerly been yellow-ochre, chestnut brown, and red-brown. The original color of the parts before they were assembled was "Venetian red."
- The Eiffel Tower is actually painted in three different tones, going from darker at the base to lighter at the top as it reaches into the sky, so that it appears to be the same color all over.
- Gustave Eiffel recognized the necessity of continually re-painting the structure, writing in 1900 that "we will most likely never realize the full importance of painting the Tower, that it is the essential element in the conservation of metal works and the more meticulous the paint job, the longer the Tower shall endure."