The Eiffel Tower is a well-known symbol of Paris. I’m not visiting Paris on my European tour. Not least because driving through the streets there in a motorhome would be a nightmare and parking, next to impossible and incredibly expensive. However, I don’t have to visit Paris to see the creations of this remarkable architect and civil engineer.
Gutsave Eiffel was born in 1832 towards the end of the industrial revolution when transport needs across France, and the world, were expanding. Originally influenced by his uncles Chemical business he specialised in Chemistry at university, but a family dispute resulted in his working at a foundry and then gaining an apprenticeship to the railway engineer Charles Nepveu.
Eiffel’s first major project in 1861 was the railway bridge over the river Garonne at Bordeaux, connecting the Paris-Bordeaux line to the lines running to Sète and Bayonne. Unfortunately, I bypassed the city of Bordeaux and so did not see this amazing feat of engineering which has recently been saved from the scrapyard by the public, the “Association of the Descendants of Gustave Eiffel” and the Association “Sauvons la Passerelle Eiffel”. It is now listed as a French Historical Monument.
6 years later, Eiffel constructed a viaduct over the river Sioule at Rouzat and in 1884 his company was responsible for the Garabit viaduct. I am lucky enough to pass both on my return route north through France. The Rouzat viaduct is not very exciting to look at but considering it was constructed in 1869 and is still in use today, it is an interesting piece of architecture and engineering. 181m long and 59m high, the bases of the two supporting pillars are reminiscent of the curving base of the Eiffel Tower.
The Garabit viaduct opened in November 1885 with a single track. Costing 3,100,000 francs, it was 565m long, 120m high (at the time, the highest in the world) and weighed 3587 tons. The deflection, measured at 8 millimetres, was accurately anticipated by Eiffel’s careful calculations. Until September 2009, only one regular passenger train per day passed over the viaduct in each direction, but the viaduct was closed after cracks were discovered in one of the foundation piles. It reopened one month later after a safety inspection, but was closed again for 6 months in 2011 for extensive repair work. I manage to view it from a conveniently placed service stop on the A75 motorway.
Also on my route is the canal at Briare. I park up next to the canal boats and walk the 662.7 metre length of the Briare aqueduct to the opposite bank of the Loire. Although designed by Léonce-Abel Mazoyer and Charles Sigault, Gustave Eiffel completed the masonry abutments and piers of the Briare aqueduct. It was built between 1890 and 1896 to make a connection with the Canal latéral à la Loire. The fourteen piers support a single metal beam carrying a trough with more than 13,000 tonnes of water. All this water makes me feel very thirsty but luckily there is a chocolatier and café inhabiting the old conductors house.
Finally, at the end of my 5 month tour of Europe, I arrive in Dieppe, where Eiffel designed and constructed the Colbert swing bridge in 1870. I manage to walk across without a problem but am stopped instead by the raising of the adjacent lifting bridge which allows some fishing vessels out of the Bassin Duquesne, formerly the main harbour of Dieppe. I am here to catch the cross-channel ferry back to the UK. My European Tour finally over.
Did you know?
Eiffel assisted in the design of the Statue of Liberty and it was actually constructed in Paris before being shipped out to New York.