Image: electricians on the Eiffel Tower
Jacques Brinon  /  AP
Electricians Henri Pellier, center, and Eric Auzelle change a light bulb atop the Eiffel tower on Oct. 29, 2008, in Paris. To change a bulb on one of the 360 spotlights that illuminate the tower at night, specially trained technicians work in pairs, using mountain-climbing gear.
updated 1/26/2009 2:10:43 PM ET 2009-01-26T19:10:43

A model of refined simplicity on the outside, the iron lady that symbolizes Paris is a complicated piece of work inside her elegant A-line figure.

Custom-fitted pumps, heaters and long-life bulbs keep the 119-year-old Eiffel Tower working and sparkling, while industrial-sized cogs, gears and cables spin, bump, grind and purr deep inside the structure's innards, in places no tourists see.

Caring for the monument's hidden core is a daunting, sometimes dangerous task that goes on out of sight but keeps the tower looking its picture-postcard best. More than 500 people — from welders and plumbers to security guards and cooks — work within the structure.

"It's a village here, full of life and very specific life forms," said Yves Camaret, technical director of the company that runs the tower, as he led The Associated Press on a tour of its many no-go areas.

Cavernous basements tucked beneath the tower's legs house massive, hydraulic motors that power the two visitors' elevators. Descending the spiral staircase into the "fosse," or pit, is like stealing onto the set of "Modern Times," Charlie Chaplin's 1936 vision of industrial society. Oversized cogs spin slowly, gears painted vibrant primary colors chug, and metal cables with the circumference of a dessert plate uncoil and recoil like anacondas.

A 1,000-gallon tank full of water, which was once pumped in from the nearby Seine, provides the counterbalance needed to hoist the roughly 18,000 visitors per day up to the 377-foot-high second-level landing.

The motor's myriad clanking parts need frequent oiling, and workers inspect them daily. Even a short, half-hour breakdown of one elevator can double the lines of visitors.

Managing wear and tear
The company that manages the tower had a net profit of $1.82 million in 2007. The money goes back to its shareholders, which include the City of Paris.

The tower draws some 7 million visitors annually, making it one of the world's top tourist attractions and a potential target for terrorists, though so far only in fantasy, as in the 1980 movie "Superman II."

"It's a symbol; therefore, it's a target," said Camaret. The tower's security detail is "extensive," he said, declining to give details.

Guards also have to watch for suicides — one jumper a year on average, Camaret said. The last was a man who leaped to his death early last year, he said.

Image: Eiffel tower's old elevator pressure gauge
Jacques Brinon  /  AP
The Eiffel Tower's old elevator pressure gauges are shown on Oct. 29, 2008, in Paris. The elevators that ferry nearly 7 million visitors a year up the tower are nearly as old as the monument itself.
Designed by the tower's architect and namesake, Gustave Eiffel, the visitors' elevators were installed in 1899 — 10 years after the tower opened. Together with the more modern elevators that go up to the 905-foot-high summit observation deck, they travel more than 62,000 miles up and down each year.

The wear and tear takes its toll. A restoration is under way to replace all the pieces of one of the aging, hydraulic motors. Exact copies of each and every original gear, wheel and screw are being cast in foundries in France and Germany for $28 million, said Eric Trahand, from the elevator maintenance team.

Aside from visitors, everything else goes up and down on a modern electric elevator.

From knickknacks on sale in the gift shop to baguettes and bubbly served in the restaurants — celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse's chic Jules Verne and the casual Altitude 95 — everything goes through X-ray machines. They are then packed into sealed containers, like padlocked refrigerators on wheels, for the trip into the sky.

Subterranean pumps send water shooting up to tower-top sinks and toilets.

Dozens of miles of plumbing are integrated into the structure of the monument, exposing the pipes to the elements. Mini-heater coils prevent them freezing when the thermometer drops, so the sinks run and toilets flush even in the harshest winters.

Keeping the tower in the spotlight
It takes a team of 30 painters working full time over 18 months to spruce up the tower with a fresh coat of its signature bronze paint.

Even changing a light bulb becomes a major production.

To replace one the 360 spotlights, specially trained technicians don mountain-climbing gear to scale the iron crossbeams. Working in pairs for safety, they are fastened by nylon climbers' cords to the structure at all times, with their tools strapped to their belts to prevent accidents.

"If you drop something, anything, even a thing as small as a screwdriver can kill," said electrician Henri Pellier, 44, who has worked at the Tower for 14 years.

Neither Pellier, nor his partner, 32-year-old Eric Auzolles, had any climbing experience before they were hired. They were trained by experienced mountain climbers.

"For me, climbing is a pleasure," said Auzolles as he strapped himself into a yellow harness and donned a hardhat. "It's like being on top of a mountain... We're missing out on the snow and the sun, that's all."

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It can sometimes take the pair up to an hour to replace a single spotlight. Luckily, the 20,000 mini-flashbulbs that make the tower sparkle every hour on the hour throughout the night are guaranteed to last 10 years.

The centerpiece of the 1889 World's Fair, the tower represented an architectural revolution. Not only was it the world's tallest building — a title it held until the 1929 inauguration of New York's Chrysler Building — but it also marked a radical departure from Paris' hallmark low, stone buildings.

Its construction in the heart of the French capital, on the elegant Champ de Mars lawn, sparked a whirlwind of controversy. Celebrated artists, writers, architects and other prominent Parisians railed against the tower, calling in an 1887 open letter for a stop to the planned construction of the "useless and monstrous" structure.

The tower was originally meant to be demolished after twenty years, but it slowly gained public favor — and proved useful as a communications tower — thus escaping the wrecking ball.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Perfectly Paris

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  1. Mood lighting

    The Eiffel Tower and the Hotel des Invalides are illuminated at dusk with in Paris. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Heart of the Louvre

    The intricate ceiling of the Appolo Gallery at Paris' Louvre Museum is reflected in a display case in the foreground. Built in 1661, the gallery was not fully completed until 1851. In all, over twenty artists worked on the decoration. The Appolo Gallery gallery contains more than two centuries of French art, and houses such wonders as the French Crown Jewels, including the famous Régent (140 carats) and Sancy (53 carats) diamonds, as well as the 105-carat Côte de Bretagne ruby. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. To the heavens

    The Sacred Heart Catholic church (Basilique Sacré-Coeur) is seen on Paris' highest point, in Montmartre. The view at the top of the dome is excellent -- 271 feet above Montmartre Hill -- and is the second-highest viewpoint after the Eiffel Tower. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Looking glass

    This elaborate stained-glass cupola (dome) inside Magasins du Printemps department store is located above the main restaurant in the store. Installed in 1923, it is composed of 3,185 individual pieces of stained glass. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Keeping cool

    Tourists soak their feet in a reflecting pool at Place du Trocadero, an area of museums and gardens. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Sights from the Seine

    A "Bateau Mouche" tourist boat travels near the Paris Justice court. These boat tours are a popular, but relaxing way to view the sights of Paris along the Seine River. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Museum of masterpieces

    Originally a royal fortress for kings, and open to all since 1793, the Louvre is one the world's greatest art museums, housing 35,000 works of ancient and Western art, displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. More than 6 million visitors see the Louvre per year. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Shopper's haven

    Local art, food and other goods are sold in passage Jouffroy, across Boulevard Montmartre. Originally designed to protect pedestrians from mud and horse-drawn vehicles, the passages (shopping arcades), arre located between the Grands Boulevards and the Louvre. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Modern art

    A view of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Its 1977 factory style architecture contrasts with the surrounding buildings of Paris' oldest district near Notre-Dame cathedral. It has a public library, and the French National Museum of Modern Art. (Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Holy architecture

    One of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture is the Notre Dame Cathedral, attracting 13 million visitors each year. The name Notre Dame means "Our Lady" in French. (Stéphane Querbes / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Practical protectors

    The famous stone statues of Notre Dame. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Tranquil gardens

    The Jardin des Tuileries is Paris's most central garden. Its fountains, sculptures, cafes, formal gardens, and central location, make it a popular destination for visitors and locals. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Offi) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Tuileries Palace

    Tuileries Palace encloses the western end of the Louvre and the formal gardens that make up Jardin des Tuileries park, stretching from the Louvre to the Place de Concorde, and bordered by the Seine. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Moulin Rouge

    The cabaret Moulin Rouge was built in 1889, in Paris' red-light district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy. The Moulin Rouge is best known as the birthplace of the can-can dance. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Flowing with history

    The Fontaine des Mers at one of the main public square, Place de la Concorde. At 20 acres, it is the largest square in Paris. (Henri Garat / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Honoring warriors

    The Arc de Triomphe stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of the Champs-Elysees. The arch honors soldiers who fought for France. The names of generals and wars fought can be found on the inside and top of the arc. Underneath, is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I . (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Coffee break

    People walk past a boulangerie (bakery) in the Montmartre district in Paris. (Michel Euler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Paris blues

    A piece of renowned French Roquefort blue cheese is displayed in a shop in Paris. (Philippe Wojazer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Pricey real estate

    The Place Vendome is an octagonal square located to the north of the Tuileries Gardens and east of the Eglise de la Madeleine. The bronze spiral column at the center of the square was constructed in 1810 by Napoleon to celebrate the French army’s victory at Austerlitz. Within the square are apartments, and posh hotels and high-end retailers, including Cartier, Chanel, and Bulgari. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French connection

    The high-speed rail network in France goes to several Parisian train stations, including Gare Du Nord shown here. The name was derived by the idea that travelers would be able to travel to Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany and the Scandinavian countries. It is the busiest railway station in Europe, and the third -busiest in the world. (Cate Gillon / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The grandest address in Paris

    The Pere Lachaise cemetary (Father Lachaise Cemetery) on the eastern edge of the city, is named after the Jesuit Father Lachaise, King Louis XIV's confessor. Many famous people are buried here, including Musset, Chopin, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Delacroix, Balzac, Jim Morrison. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Impressive collection

    The Musée d'Orsay is one of Paris' most popular museums, housed in the former railway station, the Gare d'Orsay. The museum houses an extensive collection of sculptures and impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Cezanne. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Grand design

    The Grand Palais (Big Palace) was built for the World Fair of 1900. The building is best known for its enormous glass-domed roof, making it one of Paris’ most recognizable landmarks. The Grand Palais was the work of three different architects, and is currently the largest existing ironwork and glass structure in the world. (Marc Bertrand / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Prestigious avenue

    The Louis Vuitton department store is located on the stunning Champs-Elysees, one of the world's most famous and beautiful streets. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Le Pantheon

    Le Pantheon was originally intended to be a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve to fulfil a vow made by Louis XV while he'd fallen ill. It was used for religious and civil purposes until 1885 and now functions as a famous burial place. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
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