Millions of visitors go up the Eiffel Tower annually. Even more walk past the south pillar at street level. But the south leg of the Eiffel Tower hides a particularly well-kept secret. Because for years it has housed a secret WWI military bunker. And indeed, it still does today…
During the First World War, Paris was a strategic point within Europe. As a centrally located capital city, it became the perfect place to intercept enemy transmissions and relate important information to troops on land, by sea and in the sky.
Now, when Gustave Eiffel designed the Eiffel Tower, he obviously had no idea of the impending tragedy that was to strike Europe by 1914 and the millions of lives that would be lost. However, he did know that the life span of the Eiffel Tower was limited. Designed for the World Fair in Paris in 1889, the Eiffel Tower was meant to be taken down and moved within 20 years.
When designing the tower, Eiffel knew that the field of science could save the Eiffel Tower from its limited lifespan. Experiments in the fields of astronomy, meteorology and a whole host of other subjects were carried out. But Eiffel’s real luck came with the arrival of the 20th Century.
In the early 1900s, he convinced leader of the French military to start using the Iron Lady for wireless transmission experiments. In 1908, the first scientific experiments of sending signals from the Eiffel Tower were conducted. Radio waves were sent between the Eiffel Tower and the Paris Pantheon.
Beginnings of the Station Radiotelegraphique Militaire
In 1909, the underground radiotelegraphy station was officially open for business by the French military. By 1913, the tower had managed to send electrical waves as far away as the USA. The waves had traveled as far as 6000km.
By 1910, the Eiffel Tower had been saved and Eiffel’s salary from profits of the Eiffel Tower continued. Eiffel’s innovation had ultimately saved the Tower from being dismantled…
Security was tight. The bunker housed a whole hive of confidential activity; from secret interceptions to enemy messages. Guards were posted outside the entrance full-time to guard the top-secret base. It’s also widely believed that during WW1, signals sent from the bunker allowed the allied troops to block German radio waves, thus resulting in further victories.
The victory of the allied troops at the Battle of the Marne in 1914 is often attributed to the success of intercepting and sending radio waves by using the Eiffel Tower. Signals were sent from the top of the Eiffel Tower all the way to troops on the front line. The signals not only told the troops where to go but also boosted morale among the allies.
After the military operation in the Eiffel Tower bunker began, national and international newspapers soon picked up the story. The ‘real’ purpose of the Eiffel Tower was revealed: to act as a radio transmitter that would aid in the war effort.
The WWI Military Bunker Today
Today, the WWI military bunker is predominantly used to store air conditioning units. It also happens to house the kitchens that make food for luxurious Parisian restaurant, Le Jules Verne. Now, this really does bring meaning to ‘knowing where your food comes from’. I doubt that many of the guests to this 5 star restaurant know exactly where their food comes from!
The Eiffel Tower is still the host of a whole load of antennae that broadcasters use throughout Europe. In 1953, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of the UK was transmitted throughout Europe by using the Eiffel Tower.
Finally, rumour has it that there was once a long tunnel which stretched underneath the Champs de Mars all the way from the Eiffel Tower to École Militaire. Legend suggests that it still exists today. Wouldn’t it be amazing to discover?