Origins of Craftsmanship | Painting a World Icon

For the very first time in its history, the most iconic landmark in the City of Light is undergoing extensive refurbishments to improve and beautify the Eiffel Tower experience.

The comprehensive project, led by SETE*, the Eiffel Tower Operating Company, is underway and will take a total of 15 years to complete. All the while, Paris prepares to host the 2024 Olympic Games as well as the 2025 World Expo. The renovation/upgrade budget reportedly exceeds 300 million. The Iron Lady will have a complete makeover from head to toe to be all set for these major events.

The 20th campaign to paint the Eiffel Tower will begin in the fall of 2018. The scope to repaint this architectural masterpiece represents both major technical and human challenges. The tower has been entirely repainted every seven years, and it usually takes 20 months to complete the traditional painting. This will be the most complex repaint in the tower’s nearly 130 year history. It will be necessary to remove the old layers of paint on about 10 percent of the surface area.

The repainting campaign is an important event in the life of the monument and takes on a truly mythical nature, as with everything linked to the Iron Lady. It represents an old world quality; a work of art and is known all over the world.

Only intended to last 20 years, the tower was saved by the scientific experiments that Eiffel encouraged, and in particular by the first radio transmissions, followed by telecommunications. For example, the radio signals from the Pantheon Tower in 1898; it served as a military radio post in 1903; it transmitted the first public radio program in 1925, and then broadcast television up to TNT more recently.

The Iron Lady’s protection

Constructed using puddle iron, the Tower is protected from oxidation by several coats of paint to ensure that it lives forever. The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair; or as the French say, Exposition Universelle, and to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution..

In 1900, in his book “The 300-Meter Tower “, Gustave Eiffel wrote, “We will most likely never realize the full importance of painting the Tower, it is the essential element in the conservation of metal works and the more meticulous the paint job, the longer the Tower shall endure.”

Photo: SETE/ Maud Chapeau

An enormous amount of work to ensure the Tower’s longevity

Indeed, there are various factors that can threaten this metal such as rust, the unavoidable pollution in a city, and bird droppings.

She is painted by hand

A crew of 25 paint professionals strip, clean, applies rust-proofing and the final coat of paint to the whole 300 meters. It should be mentioned that even today the paint and coating applicators still work using traditional methods dating back to Gustave Eiffel’s day – the painting of the Eiffel Tower is done only by hand! All “remote” work is forbidden, and so the painters must have the brush in their hand. Spray guns are of course ruled out. It takes technical prowess of paint professionals that are comfortable to work at height.

Construction lasted 2 years, 2 months and 5 days, which was a genuine technical and architectural achievement. “Utopia achieved”, a symbol of technological prowess, at the end of the 19th Century it was a demonstration of French engineering personified by Gustave Eiffel, and a defining moment of the industrial era. It was met immediately with tremendous success.

As France’s symbol in the world, and the showcase of Paris, today she welcomes almost 7 million visitors a year (around 75% of whom are foreigners), making it the most visited man-made monument with an admission fee in the world.

The opportunity for a complete check-up and to test even more environmentally friendly paints

Each painting campaign is an opportunity to check the state of the structure in detail, and if need be to replace any small corroded parts. The paint applied in 2002 and 2009 is a formula with no lead pigments, having been replaced by a zinc phosphate anticorrosion agent, which is also more resistant to atmospheric pollution.

Additionally, tests on paint containing near zero volatile organic were carried out during the 2009 campaign in preparation for a greener future.

Painting the Iron Lady

First things first: security equipment

Before painting can begin, safety nets and lines are installed.

Full body harnesses and helmets (more protective than hard hats)

Paint professionals are equipped with harnesses, which are connected to the Tower’s beams. Safety is ensured under the best possible conditions thanks to the systematic installation of security lines, which allow the workers to move around freely while staying attached to the structure at all times.

Safety nets

Safety nets are fitted to secure the work areas (against falling objects) and to catch any paint flakes. In 2009 they were equipped with an “anti-drip” system for the first time, using polymer film.

Tool safety

All of the tools used are attached to the painters’ belts or wrists, including paint pots and brushes.

Part of each professional’s work is to assess the condition of the substrate, clean, sand, prime and to apply the finish coats.

The extent and complexity of the work requires a rigorous methodology that includes a preparatory stage to search for the most corroded areas (in 2018, 10% of the structure’s total surface). These areas are then stripped, and a first coat of an anti-rust primer is applied, followed by a second application to strengthen the rust-proofing. Then a final coat of paint is applied.

For the rest of the structure, all of the areas judged to be in good condition undergo high-pressure steam cleaning. Treatments of any flaws or the unblocking of any drains are carried out, and lastly two coats of paint are applied.

Anticorrosion painting experts are asked to inspect the site regularly, including places that are difficult to get to, and to inspect and evaluate the quality of the work.


The campaign lasts around 18 – 20 months with interruptions due to the weather considered:

•           painting is not permitted if the structure is too cold,

•           painting is not permitted if the structure is wet.

The paint project numbers

•           25 professionals –specialists in working on steel structures at great heights and on towers,

•           12,000 gallons; 60 tons of paint;

•           the weight of eroded paint removal between two painting campaigns is estimated at 15 tons;

•           164,000 feet of safety line;

•           210,000 of safety nets;

•           1,500 brushes;

•           1,500 overalls;

•           5,000 sanding disks;

•           1,000 “scrub planes” (scrapers);

•           1,000 pairs of gloves;

•           budget: around 4 million+ Euros;

•           duration: around 18 months, without ever closing the monument to the public.

She wants to look in style

In fashionable Paris, even the Eiffel Tower must keep up with style trends. Over the decades, the “Iron Lady” has changed her looks with the application of a spectrum of paint colors. When it opened in 1889, the Eiffel Tower sported a reddish-brown color. A decade later, it was coated in yellow paint.

The tower was also yellow-brown and chestnut brown before the adoption of the current, specially mixed “Eiffel Tower Brown” in 1968. Every seven years, paint professionals apply 12,000 gallons of paint to the tower to keep her looking young. Now, the color of the monument is symbolic of the sophisticated Parisian cityscape. The tower is painted in three shades, progressively lighter with elevation, in order to augment the structure’s silhouette against the canvas of the famous French city’s sky.

Background of the Eiffel Tower’s colors:

•           1887/88: “Venetian red” paint, applied in the workshop before the parts were assembled.

•           1889: Application of a very thick, reddish-brown coat.

•           1892: The Tower turns “ochre brown”.

•           1899: A coat of 5 colors is painted in shaded tones from yellow-orange at the base to light yellow at the top. It was after this repainting campaign that the 7-year cycle was adopted for the renewal of the paintwork.

•           1907-1917-1924-1932-1939-1947: The color is called “yellow-brown”. The 1917 repainting was delayed because of the war.

•           1954-61 : A new color for the Eiffel Tower: “brownish-red”.

•           Depuis 1968: The color “Eiffel Tower Brown” is chosen for its harmony with the Parisian cityscape. It was applied in three shaded tones, with the darkest at the bottom and the lightest at the top.

Watch here

For a glimpse of how an international icon is painted watch the video, which shows some of the 25-man team of steel painting specialists going from top to bottom.

Eiffel Tower Re-Paint Job

View of the tower after the East Entry. Photo: Sarah Fauvel

The Eiffel Tower and the Pont Alexandre III. Photo: Sarah Fauvel

*Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel


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