The Eiffel Tower is riddled with rust and in need of full repairs but is getting only a cosmetic, if costly, paint job ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics, according to several leaked reports cited by French media.
The wrought-iron 324-metre high tower, built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 world fair, is among the most visited tourist sites in the world, welcoming about six million visitors each year.
"Ailing, rusty, is the Eiffel Tower falling down?" Marianne writes on its front page, with a touch of drama.
Unlikely, but experts claim the tower is in need of a full repair and is being given only a cosmetic facelift in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
"If Gustave Eiffel visited the place he would have a heart attack," one unnamed manager at the tower told Marianne.
The tower is made from 7,300 tonnes of wrought iron and engineer Gustave Eiffel himself recommended regular painting to protect the metallic structure from rusting.
The tower is currently being repainted for the 20th time – a 60-million-euro operation in preparation for the 2024 Olympics.
Some 30 percent of the tower was supposed to have been stripped and then have two new coats applied.
But delays to the work caused by the Covid pandemic and the presence of lead in the old paint means only 5 percent will be treated, Marianne said.
Experts told the magazine this amounted to a purely cosmetic makover and the tower needed to be completely stripped back to the metal, repaired and then repainted. If not they considered the final result would be "lamentable".
According to the magazine, the company that oversees the tower, Sete, and which is largely owned by city hall, is reluctant to close the tower for a long time for fear of losing tourist revenue.
When Covid restrictions forced the tower's closure for much of 2020, it lost €52m.
Sete is seeking to reassure.
The Eiffel Tower "has never been better preserved," its management told French news agency AFP, adding it conducted weekly tests to monitor the structure.
The magazine cites several reports between 2010 and 2016.
One in 2014, by Expiris, found the tower had cracks and rusting and a mere 10 percent of the newer paint was sticking to the structure.
"I've worked on the tower for several years now," the report's author Bernard Giovannoni said. "In 2014 I considered it was extremely urgent to deal with the corrosion."
Another report in 2016 found that 884 of the 18,000 pieces were faulty, including 68 that could pose a risk to structure's durability.
"The 68 elements were secondary," such as angle irons, said Sete's director general Patrick Branco Ruivo, adding they would gradually be replaced between now and 2024.
The current repaint, launched in 2019, involved stripping down the tower and removing all the layers of paint on the southern arch he explained. "We found the puddle iron to be impeccable despite it being the part most damaged [by rust]."
The tower would "continue to stand thanks to this impeccable iron", he maintained.