A brief history of the Tower’s lighting
Thursday 23 April 2020
Modified the 05/05/20
When the Tower was inaugurated in 1889, gas was the only available option for lighting as it was several years before electricity developed. Ten thousand gaslights were installed to accentuate the Tower’s forms. At night, it was lit up from the ground with spotlights. A beacon was installed at the summit, encircled by a glass rotunda and covered with a small dome. Finally, two mobile electric spotlights were mounted on rails and these spotlights could be moved all the way around the upper level of the third floor, around Eiffel’s office.
Electricity arrives in 1900
Advancements in the science of electricity allowed for the systems to be modernized starting in 1900. Electric bulbs replaced the gaslights to emphasize the lines of the Tower’s frame. For the 1925 World’s Fair, André Citroën was privileged to see his name on three sides of the Tower in giant, luminous letters thanks to the talent of Fernando Jacopozzi. These letters continued to light up the Tower until 1936, with a clock erected in the E of Citroën in 1933.
The 1937 World’s Fair inspired another project, the brainchild of architect André Granet, who was married to one of Gustave Eiffel’s granddaughters. It concentrated the lights on the Tower’s internal structure, under the first floor and between the four pillars. Fluorescent tubes drew a pattern of... lace! Thirty spotlights lit up the Tower from the exterior. These were replaced in 1958 by 1,290 small lights positioned all around the Tower in little trenches.
A new, spectacular illumination in 1985
The major innovation in the Tower’s lighting occurred in 1985, when, as part of the restoration campaign, 336 sodium-vapor lights were installed inside its structure. Designed by lighting engineer Pierre Bideau, this system created a spectacular effect because the Tower itself became a source of light, like a jewel in its case, with a pretty yellowish-orange nuance.
Inaugurated on 31 December 1985, this is the lighting system we still see today. In 2004, the power of the spotlights was reduced from 1000 w to 600 w, but with better efficiency, which allows for a considerable economy of energy while maintaining the same beautiful effect.
A complement was added beginning on 1st January 2000, with 20,000 sparkling lights placed directly on the Tower’s structure by teams of mountain climbers. Intended as a temporary measure, these lights were taken down in 2001, and then put back up a year later. They sparkle for 10 minutes, then, to save electricity, for five minutes every hour on the hour until 1 am. In addition to the sparkles, the beacon on the summit was replaced by four spotlights that successively sweep a quarter of the horizon, thus giving the illusion of a beacon that turns around the summit.
The life of the Tower, punctuated by its illuminations
A number of illuminations and various temporary colors, provided by external installations, most often spotlights from the Pont d’Iena, have punctuated the life of the Tower to mark various events: in 2004, for the year of France in China, it was decked out in red; in 2006 it wore blue for Europe; in 2007, green for the rugby World Cup; in 2008, blue with stars for the French presidency of the European Union; in 2016 in green again for COP 21, and blue, white, and red to commemorate the terrorist attacks in Nice. It also puts on pink each year for the “Pink October” campaign to fight breast cancer. Its illumination, or the turning off of the lights as a form of mourning, has thus become a symbolic vector for messages to the widest audience.
The last major illumination dates from May 2019, with the exceptional light show designed by Bruno Sellier that was projected several nights in a row to celebrate the Eiffel Tower’s 130th anniversary.
- Find out more on this page : the Eiffel Tower's illuminations
The history of an illuminated Tower
Bertrand Lemoine is an architect, engineer and historian. He was a research director at the CNRS and general manager of the Atelier International du Grand Paris. He is an internationally recognized specialist in the history and current events of architecture, construction, the city and heritage in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in Paris, Greater Paris and the Eiffel Tower. He is the author of forty-three books and several hundred articles on these subjects. He is currently a consultant on architectural, urban, digital and energy issues.