Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe (18)

There are hundreds of triumphal arches all over the world, but without the slightest doubt, none are as monumental as that of Paris, photos of which really do not do it justice. Only standing before it can you appreciate its true size. Its 50 metres height and 45 metres width make it one of the biggest in the world. The Arc de Triomphe is in the Place de l’Etoile, at the western end of the avenue of the Champs Elysées. 

Napoleon Bonaparte decided to pay homage to himself and build this arch after his victory in Austerlitz in 1805. He had promised his troops they would return home under triumphal arches and he kept his promise. It was designed by Jean-Arnaud Raymond and Jean-François Chalgrin, inspired by Roman architecture and in each of its four pillars is a statue representing Triumph, Resistance, Peace and The Marseillaise. 

Initially, the monument that was going to be built in the Place de l’Etoile was an elephant over 50m metres high that would sport out water from the trunk. The design was by Charles Ribart, and would have perhaps been more spectacular, but finally Napoleon decided on an arch.

50 metres high and 45 metres wide, just to build the foundations of this colossus of stone took two years of work. As a curiosity, for Napoleon’s wedding it was decided to build a false one of fabric and wood to show the emperor what the real one would look like, since the monument was not yet finished.

The construction work began in 1806 and was interrupted during the first defeats of the empire. During the years of the Restoration its construction was abandoned and finally restarted to be completed 30 years after the start of the works.

The Arc de Triomphe was officially opened on the 29 July 1836, by Louis Philippe, King of France. In 1840 the mortal remains of Napoleon were passed beneath the triumphal arch, thus inaugurating the monument’s funerary nature. The wake of the writer Victor Hugo was also held beneath the arch in 1885.

On the outer façades of the Arch are engraved the names of great revolutionaries and Napoleon’s victories. And on the inner walls are inscribed the names of the 588 generals of the French Empire. The names of those who died in combat are underlined.

Of the four pieces of relief work on the base, the most famous is The leaving of the Volunteers of 1792, known as the Marseillaise (the French national anthem), work of François Rude. It eclipses the other pieces of relief work for its expressiveness and movement. It is the one you will see on the right on the front part of the arch.

Inside the Arch there is a museum that explains its history and construction process. You can also go up to the roof, from where you can get one of the most spectacular views of Paris.

A spiral stairway will take you to the panoramic terrace from where you can appreciate the enormous star-shaped public square, the largest roundabout in the world, and enjoy some excellent views of the Champs Elysées. You will see that it is well worth climbing its 284 steps.

The historical and symbolic force of this monument is unquestionable. Since 1921, it has had the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at its feet, dedicated to all the soldiers who died during the First World War. On the surface of the tomb there is an inscription that reads, “Here lies a French soldier who died for his country 1914-1918”. There is also a continuously burning flame for the associations of former combatants or victims of war.

It was decided to bury the body of a soldier who could not be identified beneath the Arc de Triomphe. They chose the bodies of eight unidentified French soldiers and it was a soldier who had lost his father in the war who chose which coffin was to be moved to Paris. Since then, homage is paid to the unknown soldier reviving the flame.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website