Friday, May 6, 2016

Random Facts About... The Eiffel Tower

Whether you're lucky enough to have visited Paris or have only ever dreamed of going there, there’s no doubt you could all recognize the iconic Parisian symbol: The Eiffel Tower. These random facts will prove to you this poor construction has been through all sort of things…and some of them are quite weird.

1. The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 Paris Exposition and was not intended to be permanent.

2. The Eiffel Tower was going to be demolished in 1909, but was saved because it was repurposed as a giant radio antenna. And in 1913, the tower transmitted a signal all the way to Washington DC. The Tower is also a huge lightning rod.

3. Gustave Eiffel used latticed wrought iron to construct the tower to demonstrate that the metal could be as strong as stone while being lighter.

4. Con artist Victor Lustig "sold" the Eiffel Tower to a scrap metal dealer. Victor was a notorious scammer who “sold” the Tower even twice. 

5. The Eiffel Tower was originally intended for Barcelona, Spain, but the project was rejected.

6.  Because it’s made of wrought iron, the height of the Eiffel Tower varies by 5.9 inches (15 cm) due to temperature changes.

7. Inventor Franz Reichelt died by jumping from the Eiffel Tower while testing a parachute of his own design.

8. 1,665 steps are needed to climb all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

9. A woman named Erika "married" the Eiffel Tower in a commitment ceremony in 2007. Now her name is Erika Eiffel.

10. There is a race called “Vertical” that determines the best climbers of the Eiffel Tower.

11. There are over 30 replicas of the Eiffel Tower around the world. The most known can be found in Las Vegas.

12. The paint on the Eiffel Tower weighs 50/60 tonnes, as much as 10 elephants.

13. Gustave Eiffel had an apartment for himself at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The project of the Watkin's Tower

14. In 1891, London built a structure designed to surpass the Eiffel Tower in height. It was unsteady, never completed and demolished in 1907. The ambitious structure was built on the site of Watkin’s Tower.

15. Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower, was also behind the design for the Statue of Liberty's internal frame.

16. At the time of its construction, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest building in the world.

17. 300 workers, 18,038 pieces of wrought iron and 2.5 million rivets were needed to build the Eiffel Tower.

18. If the Eiffel Tower was built today, it would cost about 31 million US dollars.

19. The Eiffel Tower was almost temporarily relocated to Canada in 1967. 

The Tower during the Nazi occupation
20. During WWII, when Hitler visited Paris, the French deactivated the lifts on the Eiffel Tower so that Hitler would have to use the stairs if he wanted to reach the top. The lifts were repaired only in 1946. During the Nazi occupation the tower was closed for public.

21. A woman tried to commit suicide from the Eiffel Tower, landed on a car and later married the person who owned the car. Unfortunately such a happy ending is a rare thing, the Eiffel tower has one of the the highest suicide rates , which is 17.5 per 1000 people.

22. A man once tried to blow up the Eiffel Tower because its light was shining into his bedroom, keeping him awake at night. Ivan Chtcheglov was planning to use dynamite stolen from some construction site, luckily he was arrested and committed to a mental hospital by his spouse.

23. The Eiffel Tower in Paris has a light show that runs for 5 minutes every hour, every night, until dawn.

24. The Eiffel Tower was originally painted red. It appeared in red color in the center of Paris in 1889.

25. The tower is painted a lighter shade at the bottom and a darker shade near the top to counteract the effect of atmospheric perspective.

26. Gustave Eiffel engraved on the tower the names of 72 French scientists, physicians, chemists,  engineers and mathematicians in recognition of their contributions to science.

Now, if you're planning to go seeing this amazing tower, you'll also see all the bizzarre things that happened during its life. Bonne chance et ne jamais cesser de fouiner.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Urban Legends - Did Unicorns Ever Exist?

Unicorns are such pure, beautiful and mysterious creatures. These mythical horses with a single spiraling horn protruding from the forehead have continuously populated legends and magical myths all over the world. Everything has been said about them. Somebody says there’s a strange healing power enclosed in the horn, others say they can actually fly without having wings. Everybody says they’re immortal.

When the cultural beliefs about the magical creature were exploding , a “unicorn horn” was literally worth 10 times its weight in gold. Pharmacies in London sold powdered unicorn horn as late as 1741.

The unicorn of the Lascaux Caves, France
But despite being very well known, nobody has actually seen a living one grazing on the neighbors’ lawn. These magical horses have been discussed in religious texts, travel observations, and even ancient academic papers. But the real question is: Did unicorns, at one point in time, actually exist? And If they didn’t, where did the legend come from?

The first ever known depiction of a unicorn is said to be found in the ancient Lascaux Caves in France, but this should be classified as a misconception. These drawings date back to 15,000 BCE. Lots of researchers were surprised to see an animal with only one horn, claiming the discovery of an ancient “unicorn”. Until they realized that the so-called unicorn had two horns, drawn confusingly close together. More likely, the drawing depicts some sort of bull or antelope.

The first written description of a unicorn in Western literature comes from the Greek physician and historian Ctesias in the 4th century BCE. While he was traveling through Persia (what is now named Iran), he heard tales of a single-horned “wild ass” wandering around the eastern part of the world from fellow travelers. In his writings (found in Odell Shepard’s 1930 research manual called “Lore of the Unicorn”), Ctesias minutely described these creatures as “large as horses” with white bodies, red heads and blue eyes. Ctesias depicted the horn as multi-colored (precisely red at the tip, black in the middle and white at the base) and about a foot and half in length. They were so fast and powerful, claimed Ctesias, that “no creature, neither the horse or any other, could overtake it”. According to Time Magazine’s article “A Brief History of Unicorns,” it was likely Ctesias never actually saw this creature himself, but rather combined the portrayals that his foreign friends told him.

Is this what Marco Polo saw ?
Talking about actual unicorns sightings, there’s a funny story about Marco Polo. In his travels, he stumbled across unicorns and this is what he said about them:

“…scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead… They have a head like a wild boar’s… They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at. They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions”.
Nothing is impossible...

That day he saw a rhino. In fact, a lot of the sightings of unicorns are relatable with these “not so beautiful” animals (Even Genghis Khan decided not to conquer India after meeting a “unicorn”, which bowed down to him). And this funny mistake has been adopted by modern science, giving rhinos the scientific name of Rhinoceros unicornis.

The unicorn is even mentioned in the King James version of the Bible nine times.

“God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn”
“Save me from the lion’s mouth; for thou hast heard me from the horns of unicorns”

An ox
An Oryx
are just two of the unicorn-themed lines in this version of the Bible. But this is probably due to a simple mistranslation. In fact, in the Torah (the Hebrew Bible), there are references to a creature named “re’em”. Researchers believe re’em” were a now-extinct type of wild ox or, potentially, the now endangered, but still existing, Arabian Oryx. The book doesn’t specifically talk about one single horn, but translators were more familiar with Mesopotamian depictions of these animals, drawn as profiles in which only one horn is visible. So, when the Old Testament was translated to Greek, these creatures took on the word “monokeros”, meaning one-horned. Then, in the Latin Bible, this became “unicornos” and then “unicorn” into the modern English translation.

And no let’s talk about Narwhals, unicorns’ cousins. Some of the most die-hard unicorn believers think the narwhal is the missing link that can lead to the ancient existence of their beloved creatures. But there’s so little in common between unicorns and narwhals. The narwhal is a member of the whale/porpoise family and owns a single horn (that is actually a tooth) located in the middle of the forehead. This tooth is used during mating and to create holes in the ice of the cold waters of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland they often live in. These unicorn supporters speculate that unicorns, being threaten on land by hunters and those wishing to do them harm, took the sea and evolved into the narwhal. However, without a minimal connection with the horse morphology and DNA,  this kind of evolution is extremely improbable. In fact, narwhals are actually much closer to beluga whales, dolphins, and porpoises than horses in terms of DNA.

Howwever, the legend that unicorn horns could counteract poison and purify water destroyed narwhal populations, as the single tooth of the whale’s was sold as a popular counterfeit. The Throne Chair of Denmark was also made of narwhal horns.

All of this evidence seems to point to that unicorns, unfortunately for us, never actually existed. More likely, the unicorn could be seen as a mixture of all the real animals we’ve seen so far.

But don’t be sad, cause I have wonderful news for you. If you still think the unicorn is real (like I do), there is a place for you: Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. In 1971, the college created a group dedicated to the staking out and hunting of these mythical creatures called “the Unicorn Hunters”. Though the group disbanded in 1987, you can still have a Unicorn Questing license on the university’s website. The PDF is downloadable here:
I already have mine and my life is complete. Don’t care what people say. Now I have the License. And so do you…

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Did you know the Origin of the Male and Female Symbols?

Males and females are completely different, that’s for sure! But have you ever wondered why the classical symbols the genders are drawn like they are.

These two little symbols, despite being very simple and recognizable, have a lot of meaning and correlations with planets and metals. Both these associations started at the beginning of civilization. The ancients, after observing how planets and stars, like the Sun, were moving across the universe,  they found out there was a causal relationship between those movements and corresponding changes in events on our planet.

Venus (on the left) and Mars (on the right)
Logically, then, ancient scholars began to study heavenly bodies in order to predict future. They also started to associate different planets with their gods. The most common are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Zeus (Jupiter) and Cronus (Saturn).

Each planet, along with the respective god, was also associated with a particular metal. For example, the Sun (Helios) was associated with gold. And also the two planets Mars and Venus (Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus) had a representative metal. Mars (in Greek, Thouros) was associated with Iron, the hard metal used to make weapons that can turn red in form of rust.On the other hand, Venus (in Greek, Phosphorus) as associated with Copper, a softer metal that can turn green as rust.

Just like we do today with the periodic table, the Greeks would refer to these metals, using the name of the god they’re associated with, using  a combination of letters. After a while, also a little shorthand was made. Talking about  Mars (Thouros) and Venus (Phosphorus):

…and, as you can see, the shorthand began to change slightly again and again through the centuries, becoming the symbols we all know today. So, men and women are different but still connected by the stars. Have a good Life and Never Stop Snooping Around :)
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