L' Arc de Triomphe stands proudly in the center of Paris. The gargantuan construction adorns the Place de l'Etoile at the far western end of the famous French street, le Champs Elysees. The huge arch stands 51 meters (approximately 15 ½ feet) tall and is 45 meters (nearly 14 feet) wide.
The impressive structure is one of the most recognizable symbols of Paris. It forms part of the city's L' Axe Historique, which today consists of attractions such as la Place Concorde. Here, the Obelisk and the Jardins des Tuileries, the former site of the Palace of the Tuileries, can be found.
History of L'Arc de Triomphe
French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned L'Arc De Triomphe in 1806 following the successful Battle at Austerlitz. The Austerlitz conflict was a key component of the Napoleonic wars. It resulted in France's taking command and achieving a resounding victory over the Russo-Austrian armies, despite being outnumbered. Napoleon desired a fitting memorial to the glory of his empire. Therefore, he commissioned Jean Chalgrin to design an awe-inspiring monument. The design was typically neo-classical with obvious Roman influence.
Four different sculptures adorn the individual pillars of the Arc. Each represents either real or mythological French victories. One sculpture, designed by Jean-Pierre Cartot, is a depiction of the triumph of 1810. Antoine Etex created two pieces named simply "Resistance" and "Peace." Francois Rude created the famous French symbol la Marseillaise, which is a depiction of the patriotic national anthem of France.
The Arc has always been an important historical staging point for some of Frances major events. It has provided the backdrop to triumphant marches by the French and allies in 1918, 1944 and 1945. The French leader, de Gaulle, also survived an attack at the Arc while he was attending a parade. Its importance as a French symbol has never diminished.
L'Arc de Triomphe remains an integral part of France's own culture and still provides a huge draw for visitors. The Arc is the second largest freestanding-pillared arch in the world. The monument has become a huge symbol of national pride for the French.
Plans to create another modernized piece based on the powerful arch were considered for many years. In 1982, President Francois Mitterrand launched a competition to create a modern arch based on L'Arc de Triomphe. Eventually, Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen designed and created the Grande Arche. The huge white archway is almost a perfect cube and dwarfs the original L'Arc de Triomphe, as it stands some 110 meters (approximately 33 ½ feet) high. The Grande Arche was completed in 1990 and can still be found in the business district of la Defense, but it fails to compare to L'Arc de Triomphe in cultural relevancy.
Going Inside L'Arc de Triomphe
Tablets decorate the roof and walls of the internal structure of the Arc, with each one depicting French military prowess. On the ceiling of the building are the names of 30 famous French victories that occurred during the Napoleonic and Revolutionary periods. The walls are covered in the names of approximately 558 famous French generals who fought in battle. Those whose names are underlined died in the call of duty.
The tomb of the Unknown Solider can be found in the center the L'Arc de Triomphe. This was added in 1920 as a dedication to all those who died during World War I. This idea was originally used in England where a tomb in Westminster Abbey was dedicated to an Unknown Warrior. It has since become a feature of many countries all over the world.
Many have also followed the French example of lighting an eternal flame as a dedication, although France's is still the longest burning flame in Western Europe. To this day, hundreds gather at L'Arc de Triomphe on Armistice Day, November 11th, to pay homage to those who lost their lives during World War I and subsequent conflicts.