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Discover the History and Importance of the Arc de Triomphe

What is the Arc de Triomphe?

What is the Arc de Triomphe? Well, when you're talking about iconic landmarks and attractions, Paris is a city that's hard to beat. This French capital is a treasure trove of monumental sites, including the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. But if you're really keen to dive into France's rich history, the Arc de Triomphe is where you start your journey.

This grand monument isn't just the centrepiece of Paris's famous sightseeing route, the Axe Historique, it's also a powerful symbol representing the highs and lows of military history. And here's a fact that makes it even more special: 2014 marked the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, adding an extra layer of significance to your visit.

But that's not all. Beneath the Arc de Triomphe lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a poignant tribute to the unidentified soldiers who lost their lives in battle. Visiting the Arc de Triomphe offers a unique opportunity to connect with history, remember the fallen, and witness the glory and despair of military combat, all in one place.

Who Built the Arc de Triomphe?

The Arc de Triomphe was designed by the French architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin. Chalgrin's design was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus, but he magnified it to an unprecedented scale to embody the grandeur of the Napoleonic era. Construction began in 1806, but after Chalgrin's death in 1811, Jean-Arnaud Raymond continued the work. The monument was finally completed in 1836, long after Napoleon's downfall, by the French architect Guillaume-Abel Blouet, who oversaw its final stages. The collective efforts of these architects resulted in the iconic monument we see today at Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris.

The History of the Arc de Triomphe

The history of the Arc de Triomphe is as grand as the monument itself. Commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate France's military triumphs, the first stone of this majestic arch was laid on the Emperor's birthday, 15th August 1806. However, its construction stretched over three decades, finally completing in 1836, long after Napoleon's death in 1821.

This delay meant that, unfortunately, Napoleon never saw his grand vision fully realised. Yet, the Arc de Triomphe stands as a testament to the military glories and turbulent history of France. Over the years, it has witnessed numerous military parades, symbolising both triumph and sorrow. Both the German and French armies have marched under its towering presence, marking their respective victories.

One of the most stirring moments in its history occurred in 1919 when French pilot Charles Godefroy daringly flew a Nieuport biplane through the arch. This bold act was a symbolic gesture to commemorate the end of World War I, etching an unforgettable image in the history of the Arc de Triomphe.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Beneath the towering Arc de Triomphe lies one of its most poignant features: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This solemn memorial, inaugurated on Armistice Day in 1920, serves as a tribute to the countless souls lost in the Great War whose names remain unknown. It's not just a remembrance for those lost in that war, but a symbol for all unidentified casualties of conflicts worldwide. The tomb is marked by an eternal flame, a perpetual reminder of the sacrifices made.

Since 1920, out of deep respect or perhaps superstition, all military processions, including those of the Nazis and the Allies, have consciously chosen to bypass passing directly under the Arc. Instead, they solemnly march around it, honouring the sanctity of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This tradition underscores the profound reverence and significance the tomb holds in the hearts of many, standing as an enduring symbol of remembrance and respect.

Sculpture and design

The Arc de Triomphe is adorned with a series of sculptures crafted by some of the greatest French artists of the 19th century, each of these designs representing a significant theme in the nation's history. The most famous is a cluster of statues by Francois Rude entitled Departure of the Volunteers of 1792, which depicts a group of volunteers from Marseilles fighting for the National Guard during the French Revolution. Did you know that the country's national anthem actually comes from the story behind these volunteers, La Marseillaise? Who knew...

Where is the Arc de Triomphe?

If you're thinking of visiting the Arc de Triomphe (and let's face it, who wouldn't?), head over to the Place Charles de Gaulle. This spot, previously known as the Place de l'Étoile, was renamed in 1970 to honour the renowned general and president. You'll find this famous area at the western end of the Champs-Élysées, a place where twelve major roads converge, creating a unique and bustling hub in the heart of Paris. The Arc de Triomphe stands majestically here, dominating the skyline and offering an unforgettable view of the city.

Take in the breath-taking views from its summit by either taking the lift or walking up 46 steps, stamina allowing. Once at the top, the view across the Parisian skyline is one of the most impressive and you can catch great sunsets if you time it right. For the history buffs, there’s also a fascinating museum detailing the history of the arc and its construction for a bit of trivia. With The Paris Pass you can save €9.50 upon entry to the Arc de Triomphe, and get a further free entry into over 60 other attractions and museums around Paris, not to mention travel the Metro all included in the price. To find out more, click here...

ARC de Triomphe Facts

Q. Who commissioned the construction of the Arc de Triomphe?
A. The Arc de Triomphe was ordered built by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805.

Q. What is the significance of the names inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe?
A. The names inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe are those of generals and wars fought by France; the underlined names denote those who died in combat.

Q. How tall is the Arc de Triomphe?
A. The Arc de Triomphe stands at 50 meters (164 feet) in height.

Q. What is the purpose of the flame and the tomb at the base of the Arc de Triomphe?
A. The flame is the "Eternal Flame," relit every evening to commemorate the unidentified dead from both World Wars, while the tomb is known as the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier."

Q. Why is the Arc de Triomphe a significant monument in French history?
A. The Arc de Triomphe symbolizes French patriotism, serving as a reminder of their military victories and those who fought and died for France.

Q. Where exactly is the Arc de Triomphe located?
A. The Arc de Triomphe is located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées, at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l'Étoile (Star Square) in Paris, France.

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