These two photographs of the Eiffel Tower look very similar, but they aren’t the same, which you can probably tell from their different surroundings. One of the Eiffel Towers is the original standing in Paris. The other is a replica located in Tianducheng, in the suburbs of Hangzhou in China.
Replicas of famous monuments are common around the world, but there is something pervasive and obsessive about Tianducheng. Spread over 31 square kilometers, this luxurious housing estate, opened in 2007, was modeled after France’s famous “City of Lights” with Parisian-style buildings, fountains, landscaping and even its own Eiffel Tower. The replica Eiffel Tower here is over one hundred meters tall, or one-third the size of the original.
Which one is in Paris? Photo credit: François Prost
These photos are from a series called “Paris Syndrome”, by Paris-based photographer François Prost, where Prost places scenes from the French capital side by side with similar buildings in Tianducheng. There are shots of wide French boulevard lined with traditional Haussmann-era apartment buildings and classical Parisian public sculptures and streetlamps, that are difficult to tell apart from the original.
But it’s only a façade.
“People living in Tianducheng live there as they would anywhere else in China,” observes Prost. Even the dining options resemble the rest of the country, with street canteens and restaurants serving typical Chinese dishes. “I was thinking maybe they would also have tried to recreate a French restaurant,” said Prost.
Despite a national obsession with European architecture, local enthusiasm for Tianducheng, also known as Sky City, is a bit on the side of apathy. “The sites in France attract thousands and thousands of tourist per day — it’s never ending! — whereas in China the sites are not very busy and mainly occupied by local people passing by on electrical scooters or by foot,” Prost said. “People in Sky City don’t really care about the monuments: only the Eiffel Tower attracts local people by night, either to practice group dance or to have an evening walk, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings when the tower is lit up like it is in Paris every five minutes each hour every night.”
Four years ago, the project appeared to be heading towards doom when the developers failed to find buyers for the homes and businesses, but now its population have risen to 30,000, as of 2017, and is on the rise.
All photographs on the left is in China.