Champagne flowed, confetti fluttered and 21 guns fired to salute a troupe of perspiring actors who climbed 1,710 stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower on Friday for the centennial of the Parisian landmark.
Balloons and a brass band added to the festivities, in which the 30 huffing and puffing performers followed in the footsteps of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. On March 31, 1889, he marked the completion of what was then the world's tallest tower by climbing 1,000 feet to the top and unfurling a blue, white and red flag.For the centennial celebration, the three levels of the soaring pig-iron tower were transformed into outdoor cafes soaring above Paris in bloom: Fuchsia dogwoods marked the path to the Palais Chaillot across the Seine River; rectangular beds of yellow, red and purple lined the Champs de Mars.
Television monitors scattered around the periphery of the tables tracked the progress of the actors up the stairs.
Not everyone who started at the foot of the tower a century ago with the energetic 55-year-old engineer made it to the top. Some were too pooped to go beyond the first level. One man, suffering from vertigo, had himself blindfolded at the second level and finished the climb.
"This is where I get off, thank goodness," said 67-year-old actor Pierre Pauron, sitting down with a glass of cool champagne in the breeze at the second level 410 feet over Paris. "Monsieur Viguier, the man I am portraying, did not make it beyond here."
Pauron, dressed in a heavy brown wool suit, thick cotton shirt, cravat, top hat and cane, stared out over the rooftops while a bead of perspiration rolled down his face and into the stick-on beard that was peeling from his skin.
Eiffel's design was selected in a competition from among 120 other plans and met with opposition from people who found it ugly or feared it would fall down.
But the tower rose above all the debate, surviving as a filigree homage to the industrial revolution and a tribute to the innocence and prosperity of the Belle Epoch. More than 123 million people have gone up to the lofty perch to have a look around in the past 100 years.