The #saccageparis movement has launched a mobilisation that will not stop. Thousands, not to say millions of Parisians and Paris lovers are vigilant to decry any evidence of decay or degradation in the City of Light—the world’s leading tourist destination—now suffering from the culpable negligence of its mayor in terms of maintenance, security, or heritage preservation.
The latest scandal is the famous ‘iron lady,’ the Eiffel Tower, whose familiar silhouette, due to the creative genius of an engineer, Gustave Eiffel, has dominated the city since 1889. It is rusting, due to lack of serious maintenance, and may be threatening to collapse.
An article published in the weekly Marianne on June 29th set off the firestorm. It revealed the existence of three successive confidential reports, written in 2010, 2014, and 2016, from specialised companies, which all sounded the alarm. Layers of paint, accumulated on the tower year after year, would no longer adhere to the monument, exposing the monument to elements of corrosion. In 2016, the assessment carried out by the company SLH Ingénierie identified 884 defects on the tower. Among them, 68 can be described as “modification[s] of the structure that calls into question its durability.”
The Paris City Council’s response was to dismiss the Marianne article out of hand. It considered concerns about the structural integrity of the Eiffel Tower to be disproportionate. Jean-François Martins, the president of the SETE (Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel), believes that the statements reported by Marianne “prove nothing” and are just another expression of “#saccageparis”—a way of discrediting the accusations by associating them with a popular movement, accused of being masterminded by the ‘extreme’ Right, that is chasing the failings of the socialist mayor’s office in Paris. If the reports were taken seriously, the problems would be perfectly identified, without alarm, and under control within the framework of a renovation programme for the Tower planned to run from 2019 to 2024.
Despite the vigorous denials of the Paris City Council, concern has spread among Parisians, but also abroad, where the popularity of the monument, a true emblem of Paris, is immense. CNN republished Marianne’s investigation, and since then the information has been circulating in international media: the Eiffel Tower is in danger. Der Spiegel advises German tourists “not to look at the tower too closely.”
The truth is that a thorough renovation would require the site to be closed for many years, in order to get rid of layers of old paint containing lead, which seems hardly feasible. The situation may not be dramatic, but the #saccageparis movement has revealed that trust has long been broken with the Paris city authorities on heritage preservation. Right-wing politicians in opposition to Mayor Anne Hidalgo are calling for more transparency on the exact state of Paris’ most famous monument. For the time being their request has not been met.