Eiffel Tower going underground

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THE EIFFEL TOWER is to be enlarged. Downwards.

Inspired by the commercial success of the underground access to the Louvre, the city of Paris is planning a subterranean gallery of shops, restaurants and ticket-booths below the tower. The complex will also include a museum, a creche, a car park and offices.

Although the tower has more paying visitors than any other monument in the world - 3,600,000 tickets were sold last year or an average of 10,000 a day - its cramped access points and outdoor ticket booths have been substantially unchanged for more than a century.

The city and the tower's management company want to provide somewhere for tourists to queue out of the wind and rain. They also want to provide them with more opportunities to spend money.

Despite its popularity, the tower has a relatively modest turnover of pounds 30m a year and makes an annual profit of pounds 3m.

Work is expected to begin at the end of next year, to avoid clashing with millennium celebrations, and be completed by the middle of 2003.

The creation of an underground access and shopping gallery at the Louvre, topped by a glass pyramid to provide natural light, has led to a sharp increase in the number of visitors. Tenders for architects plans for a matching access to the Eiffel Tower will be invited in the next few weeks.