Guide Tour of Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, France,The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

The Arc de Triomphe is an iconic symbol of French national identity and took 30 years to build. Its construction, decided by the Emperor Napoleon I, began in 1806 and was completed in 1836 under the reign of Louis-Philippe. Victory parades have frequently marched past the arch. The Tour de France bicycle race ends near it each year, and the annual military parade marking July 14, begins its journey at the arch. The coffins of many French luminaries, such as Victor Hugo and Ferdinand Foch, have lain in state there before their interment elsewhere.

The Arc de Triomphe of Paris, the only highest peak of the Champs-Elysées. At 60 metres above sea level it offers one of the most beautiful views of the Capital. A stairway of 284 steps reaches from the ground level to the top of the monument; an elevator goes partway up the monument, but from there the top, where an observation deck is located, can only be reached by climbing the remaining steps. One level below the observation deck is a small museum with interactive exhibits on the history of the arch.

The crossroad of 12 Parisian avenues and desired by Napoleon to celebrate French victories, the Arc de Triomphe has been the rendez-vous of all the tourists since its inauguration in 1836. Located on the far West of the Champs Elysées, it rules over the most beautiful avenue of the world. The Eiffel Tower, the place de la Concorde, the area of La défense: few symbolic monuments of Paris are not visible from this 360° viewpoint at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle-Etoile.

The Place de l’Étoile forms an enormous roundabout of twelve avenues pierced in the 19th century at the instigation of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann, then prefect of the department of the Seine. These avenues “radiate” in a star shape around the square, notably Avenue Kléber, Avenue de la Grande-Armée, Avenue de Wagram and, the best known, Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Paving stones of different colors draw on the ground of the square two stars whose points arrive for one in the middle of the avenues, for the other between the avenues.

Chalgrin’s design is Neoclassical, inspired in part by the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. Decorative high-relief sculptures celebrating military victories of the Revolution and the First Empire were executed on the facades of the arch’s four pedestals by François Rude, Jean-Pierre Cortot, and Antoine Etex. The most famous of those sculptures is Rude’s group Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 (popularly called La Marseillaise). Other surfaces are decorated with the names of hundreds of generals and battles.

A stairway of 284 steps reaches from the ground level to the top of the monument; an elevator goes partway up the monument, but from there the top, where an observation deck is located, can only be reached by climbing the remaining steps. One level below the observation deck is a small museum with interactive exhibits on the history of the arch. Beneath the arch lies France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, added in 1921. A flame of remembrance there, first lit in 1923, is rekindled each evening. An annual ceremony marking the anniversary of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I is held at the arch.

Beneath the arch lies France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, added in 1921. A flame of remembrance there, first lit in 1923, is rekindled each evening. An annual ceremony marking the anniversary of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I is held at the arch.

The Arc de Triomphe is accessible by the RER and Métro, with exit at the Charles de Gaulle—Étoile station. Because of heavy traffic on the roundabout of which the Arc is the centre, it is recommended that pedestrians use one of two underpasses located at the Champs Élysées and the Avenue de la Grande Armée. A lift will take visitors almost to the top – to the attic, where there is a small museum which contains large models of the Arc and tells its story from the time of its construction. Another 40 steps remain to climb in order to reach the top, the terrasse, from where one can enjoy a panoramic view of Paris.

In 1798, the Minister of the Interior of the Directory, François de Neufchâteau organized a major architectural competition. Its ambition is to complete the perspective of the Champs-Élysées with an emblematic building. Thirteen projects will be submitted, but no follow-up will be given to them.

Napoleon I, the day after the Battle of Austerlitz, declared to the French soldiers: “You will only return to your homes under triumphal arches. The Emperor referred to the triumphal arches erected under the Roman Empire to commemorate a victorious general parading at the head of his troops. In December 1805, he instructed his Minister of the Interior, Jean-Baptiste Nompère de Champagny, to urgently begin work on a triumphal arch to glorify his soldiers.

On February 18, 1806, Napoleon signed an imperial decree ordering the erection of an arch in honor of the Grand Army. Three months later, Napoleon accepted the architects’ proposal and decided to build the Arc de Triomphe west of the Champs-Élysées so that it was visible from the Tuileries Palace (imperial residence).

Once having designated the Place de l’étoile as the place of elevation of the Arc de Triomphe, the architects Jean-François Thérèse Chalgrin and Jean-Arnaud Raymond drew up a series of plans. In particular, they opt for a single-opening arch, insofar as this would also present itself as a city gate. This architectural bias makes direct references to ancient arches such as the Arch of Titus in Rome (85 AD).

The first shield-shaped stone bearing an inscription is laid onAugust 15, 1806 (for the Emperor’s birthday) and covered with a bronze plaque to protect it. On April 2, 1810, Napoleon I married Marie-Louise of Austria. The imperial couple left the Palais de Saint-Cloud, where the civil wedding had taken place the day before, to join the Palais du Louvre and celebrate their religious wedding. The itinerary foresees entry into Paris via Place de l’Etoile.

At that time, the construction of the Arc de Triomphe was not finished. On the occasion of his marriage to Archduchess Marie-Louise and her entry into Paris, the Emperor delegated funds which enabled Chalgrin to build a full-scale model in framework, stucco and painted canvas. which remain in place for quite a long time and under which the princess passes.

After the fall of Napoleon and the coming to power of Louis XVIII, work on the Arc de Triomphe was suspended. In 1814, the architect Guillaume Poyet proposed to shave the existing pillars. Louis XVIII refuses although he does not express any desire to resume construction. This construction site ordered by Napoleon finds no favor in the eyes of the monarchists. Many proposals will be formulated between 1814 and 1823, without a single one holding the king’s attention.

On October 9, 1823, Louis XVIII instituted that the Arc de Triomphe must be immediately finished, but with a new dedication to henceforth commemorate the victorious expedition to Spain.. Work resumed gradually, and Louis-Robert Goust was associated with another architect: Jean-Nicolas Huyot. Both take over Chalgrin ‘s plansand are responsible for reworking them, in particular by adding columns to the facade. Louis XVIII died on September 16, 1824, and his brother Charles X succeeded him.

Charles X will continue the work of the monument according to the wishes of Louis XVIII. A commission of architects met and defined the ornaments to be made. It was decided that the vault would be decorated with 21 coffers with rosettes, that paintings in high relief would be carved on the facades, then it was recommended to use Chérence stone (Vexin) to make thecarvings of the entablature. In 1828 the monument rose to the architrave of the entablature.

Louis-Philippe I ascends the throne, he appointed Guillaume Abel Blouet, who would be responsible for completing the Arc de Triomphe with a new dedication to the Armies of the Revolution and the Empire. At the same time, Adolphe Thiers, then Minister of the Interior, placed an order with several sculptors to produce the allegorical decorations.

Louis-Philipperesumes the initial thought of Napoleon but, in a spirit of reconciliation, associates the armies which fought between 1792-1815. It was Louis-Philippe and Adolphe Thiers who decided on the choice of themes and sculptors: The Departure of the Volunteers, commonly known as La Marseillaise, by François Rude and The Triumph of Napoleon by Jean-Pierre Cortot. More spectacular is the frieze located at the top of the Arc and which is divided into two parts: The Departure of the Armies and The Return of the Armies with a long central scene to the glory of the Nation. The construction was carried out between 1832 and 1836 by the architectGuillaume-Abel Blouet.

On July 29, 1836, after 30 years of work, the Arc de Triomphe was finally inaugurated. At nightfall, a crowd gathers in front of the Arc de Triomphe, which is illuminated by 700 gaslights.

Subsequently, the government and the architect will face a wave of dispute concerning the names inscribed on the pillars. Blouet will immediately add 128 names of generals and 172 forgotten battles. In his work published in 1837 and entitled the Interior Voices, Victor Hugo lamented that his father, Jospeh-Léopold-Sigisbert Hugo, who had been appointed General by Louis XVIII in 1814, did not appear there, which additions until 1895.

In the minds of the designers, the top of the Arc was to be crowned by a monumental sculpted group. Several projects, some of which are very fanciful, are presented: victorious France, a colossal eagle, Napoleon on a sphere, a water tank, an elephant, etc. In 1882, a quadriga designed by the sculptor Alexandre Falguière was installed on the base left empty: this life-size framework and plaster model represents an allegory of France or the Republic, drawn by an antique-style chariot s preparing to “crush Anarchy and Despotism”. The monumental sculpture, baptized the Triumph of the Revolution, was removed in 1886 because it began to deteriorate.

Carving Details
The elevation of this monumental tetrapyle arch is as follows: in front of the main facades of the abutments, the first register is decorated with groups in the round on pedestals. This headband is surmounted by a first entablature made up of a frieze of fretboards and a projecting cornice. The second register is animated by large rectangular stone frames, decorated with a bas-relief, and surmounted by an entablature, including a historiated frieze, under a projecting cornice. The third register in the vertical partition of the building is a large attic floor decorated with 30 shields.

The four main sculptural groups on each of the Arc’s pillars are:
Le Départ de 1792 (or La Marseillaise), by François Rude. The sculptural group celebrates the cause of the French First Republic during the 10 August uprising. Above the volunteers is the winged personification of Liberty. This group served as a recruitment tool in the early months of World War I and encouraged the French to invest in war loans in 1915–1916.
Le Triomphe de 1810, by Jean-Pierre Cortot celebrates the Treaty of Schönbrunn. This group features Napoleon, crowned by the goddess of Victory.
La Résistance de 1814, by Antoine Étex commemorates the French Resistance to the Allied Armies during the War of the Sixth Coalition.
La Paix de 1815, by Antoine Étex commemorates the Treaty of Paris, concluded in that year.

Six reliefs sculpted on the façades of the Arch, representing important moments of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic era include:
Les funérailles du général Marceau (General Marceau’s burial), by Henri Lemaire (Southern façade, right).
La bataille d’Aboukir (The Battle of Aboukir), by Bernard Seurre (Southern façade, left).
La bataille de Jemappes (The Battle of Jemappes), by Carlo Marochetti (Eastern façade).
Le passage du pont d’Arcole (The Battle of Arcole), by Jean-Jacques Feuchère (Northern façade, right).
La prise d’Alexandrie, (The Fall of Alexandria), by John-Étienne Chaponnière (Northern façade, left).
La bataille d’Austerlitz (The Battle of Austerlitz), by Théodore Gechter (Western façade).

The names of great battles of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars are engraved on the attic.
A list of French victories is engraved under the great arches on the inner façades of the monument.
The names of military leaders of the French Revolution and Empire are engraved on the inner façades of the small arches. The names of those who died on the battlefield are underlined.
The great arcades are decorated with allegorical figures representing characters in Roman mythology (by J. Pradier).

Historic symbol
The Arc de Triomphe is one of the national monuments with a strong historical connotation. Since November 11, 1920, the Arc de Triomphe has housed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Following the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the First World War took a large number of countries with it. It was intended to be brief, but it will last four years and cause more than eighteen million deaths. On the French side, the war took nearly 1,400,000 men.

Three hundred thousand soldiers will be reported missing in France at the end of the First World War. On November 26, 1916, when the fighting was far from over, Francis Simon (President of French Remembrance) raised the idea of a tribute from France to the unknown soldiers.

On July 14, 1919, the day after the signing of the Peace Treaty, Georges Clemenceau organized the Parade of Victory. The man who was then nicknamed “Father Victory” chose the Arc de Triomphe as the setting for this parade. To create the cenotaph, several artists were called upon. The sculptor André Sartorio and the painters André Marre, Louis Süe and Gustave Louis Jaulmes produced this immense work in a few days. Eighteen meters high, the golden faces of the cenotaph present winged victories and the inscription: “To the dead for the fatherland”.

This importance has been reinforced since the remains of the Unknown Soldier, killed during the First World War, were buried there on January 28, 1921. Two years later, André Maginot, then Minister of War, supported the project to install a “flame of remembrance” there which was lit for the first time on November 11, 1923 by the Minister.

This eternal flame is, with that of the Altar of the Fatherland in Rome, the first of its kind since the extinction of the flame of the Vestal Virgins in 391. It commemorates the memory of soldiers who died in combat and never goes out: it is revived every evening at 6:30 p.m. by associations of veterans or victims of war.

Inside the monument, a permanent exhibition conceived by the artist Maurice Benayoun and the architect Christophe Girault opened in February 2007. Renewing the 1930s exhibition, this new museography gives a large place to multimedia. Entitled “Between wars and peace”, it offers a reading of the history of the monument taking into account the evolution of its symbolism until the current period, a period when the values of dialogue and encounter take precedence over confrontation. army. A multimedia presentation tells in seven stations and on three levels the history of the monument in a contemporary, interactive and playful way. It allows you to discover what could have been (the unrealized projects), what has disappeared and what cannot be easily seen (the sculpted decoration).