The Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile atop the hill of Chaillot in the heart of Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris, is the acme of the Champs Elysées avenue, forming the backdrop for an impressive urban portfolio in Paris. The last leg of the Tour de France race also finishes here.
Dedicated to the glory of all French Armies, it commemorates the triumphs of Napoleon I, under whose decree it was commissioned. Construction began in 1806 based on the design by Jean Francois Chalgrin (which is inspired by the Arch of Titus template) and was carried on after his death by L. Goust, J. N. Huyot, and G. A. Blouet consecutively, who brought the arch to completion in 1836, 30 years after it was started.
Carved around the top of the Arch are the names of major victories won during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. However the names of less important victories, as well as those of 558 generals, can be found on the inside walls. There are bands of ornamental stonework on the upper third of the structure. At the bases of the Arc’s pillars are four massive relief sculptures honoring The Triumph of 1810, Resistance, Peace and the Departure of the Volunteers, which is commonly known as La Marseillaise. On the day the Battle of Verdun started, the sword carried by the figure representing the Republic broke off from La Marseillaise. The relief was immediately hidden to conceal the accident, so that it would not be interpreted as a bad omen.
One can climb the 280 steps on the narrow, winding stairway to the top of the Arc De Triomphe to enjoy the views of the city. Inside the arch, at the top, there is a small museum on the historical past of the arch and a souvenir shop. If you walk around, you can see all the twelve avenues that make up the “star”. In the mid-19th century, Baron Haussmann established a program to develop and modernize Paris. The 12 arterials radiating from the Arc de Triomphe were part of this plan for the formation of a series of major boulevards intersecting at monuments.
Since 1920, the tomb of France’s Unknown Soldier has lain underneath the arch. Its eternal flame honors the dead of the world wars, and is rekindled every evening at 6:30pm. On every Armistice Day, the President of the Republic lays a ceremonial wreath on it. On July 14, Bastille Day or the French National Day, a military parade begins at the arch and proceeds down the Champs Elysées. For main occasions of state, and on national holidays, a huge French tricolor is draped from the vaulted ceiling inside of Arch, illuminated by red, blue and white lights.
One of the most significant symbols of Paris, this incredible arch is an essential element of this City of Art.