October 2011

Eiffel in Bolivia

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was a French engineer with specialty in metallic structures, who acquired a great international reputation for his use of iron, building hundreds of major structures (Bridges, cranes, stations, etc.). A few know that he was also the man behind the project of Mercado 25 de Mayo in Cochabamba

By: Jamie Bassett
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Lewes - United Kingdom

La Paz Buses Terminal

Photo: Freddy Mita

People often forget that the Eiffel Tower was merely the culmination of a highly successful and productive career which stretched from Europe to South America, including projects here in Bolivia.

Eiffel was born in 1832 when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. He impressed fellow engineers early on when he took over the construction of a bridge and was soon appointed to positions of greater and greater responsibility. After only ten years in engineering he started his own construction company in 1867, and soon went on to design a number of bridges and buildings across Europe. By the late 19th Century he was well known for his use of pioneering techniques and building, especially for designing the interior structure of the Statue of Liberty in 1885, France’s gift to America.

However his greatest triumph was the 1889 Exposition Universelle in which he contributed a number of projects, including the now famous Eiffel Tower. Interestingly people were originally fiercely opposed to the idea of a giant tower, complaining it was an eyesore and a waste of money. In fact, the tower was designed to be torn down quickly after the exhibition was over. However, thanks to its popularity among tourists and the large amounts of money it brought into the French economy, it quickly became a source of pride and is now a national symbol of France.

Mercado 25 de Mayo

Photo: Ximena Noya

To ensure its continued importance, Eiffel also used the tower to research aerodynamics, meteorology and radio broadcasting. As a result of these experiments it soon became a radio tower and was later used for television broadcasting, as well as being ‘the world’s tallest flagpole’! It is often forgotten that Eiffel’s work was not limited to Europe but spread all over the world, from a post office in Vietnam to Bolivar Bridge in Peru to the Basilica of San Sebastian in the Philippians, the only steel church in all Asia. He even spent some of his formative years during the early 1870s in South America designing a number of buildings and bridges that are still in use today, including the Palacio de Hierro, the first iron and steel building ever built in Mexico City, and the Central Station in Santiago, Chile.

Eiffel also had projects in Bolivia including La Paz train station, now its main bus terminal, and some nearby gasworks. He even built the Mercado on 25 de Mayo street here in Cochabamba. Should you go inside to visit, you can see dark lime-green steel girders stretching above the stalls of fruit and vegetables in simple yet elegant arches typical of Eiffel’s style.

Sadly Eiffel’s career came to an ignominious end in the 1890s when he got involved in the Panama Canal project. When it collapsed his reputation suffered in the resultant embezzlement scandal and, despite being cleared of any wrong-doing, he retired from construction, focusing instead on experiments in engineering until he died in 1923. Although best remembered for the Eiffel Tower and his part in the construction of the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel was a great pioneer in engineering and in using new construction materials. Greatly respected among his peers he made many great advances in the world of engineering and was one of the greatest engineers of his time.

The Eiffel Tower

Photo: Antonio Gallo
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