• Asirini Parakramawansha

La Dame de Fer et des Secrets

Versailles, wineries, guillotines, and other cultural landmarks aside, you can't truly visit France without paying homage to its iconic Lady of Iron (or Dame de Fer if you're going local). But who on earth decided to raise a giant climbing frame in the middle of Paris in the first place? And what does the tower hide beneath its bronze exoskeleton?

The Eiffel Tower reflected in a pool in the Champ de Mars
It's symmetry certainly makes the Tour de Eiffel very photogenic. That may also make it a rather nice antenna, or even a decent rocket ship...

l'habit ne fait pas le moine

Anyone in my French class, or who has listened to La Même by Maître Gims, knows the meaning of "l'habit ne fait pas le moine". Don't judge by appearances. At first glance, one might think the Eiffel Tower was just another famous landmark in Paris. But over the years, theories discussing its true form have accumulated in their hundreds. The French famously designed the statue of liberty, so if they truly wanted their own world-renowned landmark, couldn't they have gone for something with a bit more... je ne sais quoi? Clearly, this structure could only have been placed in the middle of Paris to act as a conductor for a mad scientist's brain-washing device. If you were to look closely, it even has a "secret" apartment at its peak- or perhaps that's actually the perfectly disguised cockpit of France's first space shuttle? Perhaps the Iron Lady was intended to be a landing signal for Victorian aliens zooming past in their vaisseaux spatiaux? Or could it be the resting exoskeleton of some great pyramidal crustacean?

The Birth of a "Monstrosity"

To really understand what lies beneath the (once yellow) paint of this bizarre Parisian antenna, we need to dig straight to its foundations. The Eiffel Tower was designed by Gustave Eiffel as the winning submission to a Paris-wide architectural competition. The aim was to create a temporary and ornate tower to celebrate the French Revolution's centennial anniversary at l'Exposition Universelle in 1889. The tower was certainly a showstopper. It even secured the title of the tallest structure in the world for several decades. And that's all there is to it- at least that's what the history books say.

But not soon after its four iconic arches cast their first shadow over Le Champ de Mars, the Parisian people started to get wise to the more mysterious side of the monument. In fact, many renowned artists and public figures- a whole 300 of them! - showed their indignation against its ominous presence by publishing a manifesto against the structure in Le Temps newspaper on Valentine's day. Here's an excerpt from the manifesto.

“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects, passionate lovers of the beauty, until now intact, of Paris, hereby protest with all our might, with all our indignation, in the name of French taste gone unrecognized, in the name of French art and history under threat, against the construction, in the very heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.” - Le Temps (1887)

The rest of the manifesto continues as such. It included the much notable description of the tower as a “gigantic black factory chimney”. Which, for all we know it could be. The manifesto's conclusion can be summed up in this last quote: “even commercial-minded America does not want it.” If we were to twist the lens and look back to when the only thing the tower represented was horrific new industrialization, could we ever know that the Tour d'Eiffel would stay up for over a century longer than it was commissioned for? What force could have held its metal mass back from the grave? Could it be supernatural? Or a more sinister manmade plot?

Radio saved the architecture star

Contrary to the idiom, familiarity served to ease contempt instead of breeding it and Parisians suspiciously began to like the structure. Could this be evidence of mind control? Halt your scepticism for a moment. If you look through the lens you might find that subliminal mind control waves aren't actually as improbable a cause for the pro-Eiffel sentiment as they first seem.

Brain washing or just news broadcasts?...

If you peered over Gustave's shoulder as he devised the original blueprints for the Tour d'Eiffel you might have noticed the absolutely extortionate price of 7,799,401.31 French gold francs it cost to build. The French government was keen on the design, but not nearly keen enough to spend the modern equivalent of $1.5 billion on Gustave's brainchild. So the architect took it upon himself to pay 80% of the cost and was allowed to make a profit from tourism and advertising on the tower for the first twenty years of its life. After that, the tower would belong to the government who acted under the then aggravated Parisian citizen's will. They planned to scrap the "monstrosity" on the day after the tower's 20th birthday.

So Monsieur Eiffel thought long and hard about how to make the tower useful after its twenty-year grace period ended. He started by erecting an antenna atop the tower and sponsoring scientists to experiment with the brand new craft of wireless telegraphy from its peak in 1898. The tower suddenly grew in popularity, especially as WW1 rolled in. It was invaluable in sending and receiving wireless messages, and the city renewed Eiffel’s concession when it expired in 1909. Today, more than 100 antennae on the tower beam radio and television broadcasts around the world. But it is unknown how many of those antennae are beaming out experimental beams right now. And how many of the experiments are tampering with the vulnerable brains of french civilians...

The Beauty and the Beast of Paris

The new radio experiments warranted more than military spending and public (cough, brainwashing, cough) support. In 1917, the tower was well and truly a military stronghold and accidentally picked up a coded message between Germany and Spain about an "Operative H-12". Little did they know that this message was about the most celebrated high-society darling in Paris.

Unless you have been vivre dans une grotte you will recognise the infamous name of Mata Hari. Lover, dancer, courtesan to the French elite and the most mysterious spy of WW1. Despite her looks and adoption of Javanese and Indian outfits, Mata Hari was actually born to a Dutch family and given the name Margaretha Zelle. At a young age, she learned to use her looks and wit to propel herself to the highest ranks of society. After her first divorce, she crafted herself an identity as a mysterious foreign dancer called Mata Hari. Once the war broke out, she was scouted by German secret service officials for her proficiency with languages and her frequent travelling- that and her knack for wringing secrets out of the highest-ranking military personnel in every city she visited.

Mata Hari decked out in jewels, gold and a peaceful expression that hide her second life as an axis powers spy
Mata Hari - Exotic Dancer, World Renowned beauty and the most dangerous double-crossing spy of WW1

The German spies first reached her during the Great War, while she was staying in Berlin. Unfortunately for them, she was already pretty miffed that most of her expensive gifts from ex-lovers and admirers had been taken to fund the war. So, when they offered the modern equivalent of $61,000 for her services as a spy, she took the money as compensation for her lost treasures.

Although much of the next few years is unknown, Mata Hari eventually joined the Germany Secret Service and rooted herself firmly in the hearts of the Parisian public through her dancing and charming presence at the most exclusive of balls and parties. But under her bejewelled crown and exotic alias, Mata Hari was known only as Operative H-12 to her allies. And to the French, she was only known as the mole who leaked strategic information that resulted in an estimated 50,000 French casualties.

Mata Hari eventually doublecrossed the Germans and helped the French as well, but never informed her French allies of her German sponsors nor told the Germans of her French links. She was the perfect double agent. Perhaps if we look back through the lens, to the Hotel Elysée Palace on the Champs Elysées at the foot of the Eiffel tower on one fateful night in 1917, we could have seen just as plainly as today's historians that no one would ever have suspected her of any real espionage.

That was until Gustave's experimental antennae picked up a certain garbled message.

All it took for Mata Hari to be faced with the firing squad was one message intercepted from the very tower she could see through her hotel window. The coded transmission revealed her double-crossing deviousness to the French and she was arrested and executed in quick succession. But the shock of Europe's darling being outed as a snoop rattled Europe and the extent of her work is still unknown... Could her real body count be just 50,000 or perhaps closer to 100,000?

Perhaps if we tilted our lens to the needlepoint peak of the Tour d'Eiffel we might just catch a few muddled wisps of code ourselves. Perhaps we'll find the Achille's heel of another great secret agent? Or maybe it'll just be the subtle snores of Paris' most heroic "monstrosity"?

C'est un Secret

Although it is pretty handy as an intelligence base, that couldn't have been the sole reason behind the Eiffel Tower's creation. Wouldn't the secret service have wanted something more... secret? And with more opaque walls? No, fellow explorers. If we're to truly uncover the secrets of La Dame de Fer, we must leave the spy-ridden hotels at its feet, for the ominous open secret at its peak.

Gustave Eiffel didn't stop at just antennae to keep his marvel out of the scrap heap. To really sell his tower to the scientific community, he included a secret apartment on the third level, almost 1,000 feet above Champ du Mars, where scientists could go to discuss their work and socialise. The small room was filled with wooden furniture, colourful patterned wallpaper, even a grand piano. The apartment also had a small laboratory area with lab equipment, so that the scientists could even give practical demonstrations of their theories.

Let's scale the twisting turrets and frames of the Eiffel and peer into its now-abandoned lab. Perhaps we'll see awed conversations on the nature of reality and the aerodynamics of the birds that fly just outside the window, all lit by Bunson burners busily showing off another guest's work on the other side of the room.

Or perhaps that was just the part of the story that Gustave wanted the public to know.

The apartment although labelled as "secret" was always known to the public and Gustave invited many well-known Victorians to tea with him there, including Thomas Edison. But there were still some bizarre rules about the place. No non-scientists were allowed. No one was to stay the night. And any experiments were to be conducted, only if the experimenters were happy for Gustave to pop by and observe at any given moment. Although the wishes h

SpaceX has nothing on this 19th-century Tech

Eiffel tower flying out to space like a rocket
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is 10,000 tons of wrought iron sculpture? An illustration of my view through the kaleidoscope (as digitally painted by yours truly)

Be it a spaceship, brainwashing device, evil scientist's lair, or simply a poor design choice, the Eiffel tower stands today as the pride of Paris and one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world! Perhaps this tower is simply a testament to Gustave's ingenuity? Could it be the last reminder of Parisian indignation at the monstrosity of industrialization? Or perhaps Edinburgh is close enough to Paris for the 'mind-melting waves' to reach through my thin skull and obscure its true form...

Although I do admit that this time the historical explanation is pretty cool too, and the architecture of this great tower is certainly nothing to scoff at, I've always felt that there is something more to La Dame de Fer. Here and there, as I twist the lens, I can't help but speculate about what lies between the metal lacing of her bodice or what international spies or mad scientists could be hiding in her crown. As we draw away from the City of Romance and the silhouette of her iron mistress begins to fade, try taking one last look through the lens. You never know what new dimensions you can dive into when you dare to discover the world through a kaleidoscope...

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