History-minded visitors to Paris might have made a plan to check out the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday. After all, it was the 100th anniversary of the death of Gustave Eiffel, the eponymous civil engineer whose company designed and built it.
But the sign they discovered by the landmark bore grim tidings: “La Tour Eiffel est actuellement fermée.” The tower was closed.
The reason will be familiar to anyone who has spent significant time in France: a labor action.
Tourists could mill about on the Esplanade, the ground-level area around the base of the tower. But they could not spend the 28.3 euros it costs to take an elevator to the top, nor pay the discounted rate of €21.5 for those hardy souls willing to climb the stairs roughly half of the way.
Topping out at 1,083 feet, or about three-quarters of the height of the Empire State Building including its spire, the tower attracts six million to seven million tourists a year.
Easily visible from almost anywhere in Paris, it supposedly inspired a quip from de Maupassant or Flaubert or Balzac or William Morris. Whomever of these writers it was dined frequently at the Tower, and when asked why replied, perhaps apocryphally: “It’s the only place in Paris where I can’t see the thing.”
The Confédération générale du travail, the union representing workers at the tower, did not respond to a request for comment, but was quoted by the BBC saying that the tower’s operators were “heading for disaster,” and called its economic plans “overambitious and untenable” because they underestimated the costs of its maintenance and renovation.
A show of son et lumière — sound and light — to celebrate the anniversary will go on as scheduled.
Completed in 1889 by Eiffel and his engineers and construction workers to commemorate another 100th anniversary — the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution — the tower has hardly stayed out of the news since.
Most recently, it popped up in international headlines when two American tourists were found to have spent the night in it.
The Eiffel Tower was also closed in March, as were many other sites including the Louvre, as a result of sweeping labor protests over a law raising the retirement age to 64 from 62.
The tower was expected to reopen on Thursday, so tourists can again take in the view that has entranced visitors for more than a century.
But they will have to hurry. The price goes up to €29.40 on Jan. 1.