Arc de Triomphe, in full Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, massive triumphal arch in Paris, France, one of the world’s best-known commemorative monuments. The Arc de Triomphe is an iconic symbol of French national identity and took 30 years to build. The Tour de France bicycle race ends near it each year, and the annual military parade marking July 14—known both as French National Day and Bastille Day—begins its journey at the arch.
It stands at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle (formerly called the Place de l’Étoile), the western terminus of the avenue des Champs-Élysées; just over 1.2 miles (2 km) away, at the eastern terminus, is the Place de la Concorde. Napoleon I commissioned the triumphal arch in 1806—after his great victory at the Battle of Austerlitz (1805)—to celebrate the military achievements of the French armies. The arch, designed by Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin, is 164 feet (50 metres) high and 148 feet (45 metres) wide. It sits in a circular plaza from which 12 grand avenues radiate, forming a star (étoile), which is why it is also called Arch of Triumph of the Star.
Construction of the arch began in 1806, on August 15, Napoleon’s birthday. Little more than the foundation had been completed by the time of his marriage to the Austrian archduchess Marie-Louise in 1810, so, in honour of her ceremonial entry into Paris, a full-scale depiction of the completed design, created from wood and painted canvas, was erected at the site. That gave Chalgrin the opportunity to see his design in place on the site, and he made some small amendments to it.
At the time of his death in 1811, only a small portion of the structure had been completed, and work slowed further after Napoleon’s abdication as emperor and the Bourbon Restoration (1814). Thus, little more was accomplished until the resumption of work was ordered in 1823 by King Louis XVIII, who was motivated by the success of the French invasion of Spain that restored King Ferdinand VII’s power as absolute monarch. The basic structure of the monument was finished by 1831; work was completed in 1836, during the reign of King Louis-Philippe, who opened it officially on July 29.
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.
The Arc de Triomphe continues to serve as an iconic symbol of France, to the country itself and to the world. The coffins of many French luminaries, such as Victor Hugo and Ferdinand Foch, have lain in state there before their interment elsewhere. In addition, victory parades have frequently marched past the arch, both those of invading powers (such as Germany, in 1871 and 1940) and of France and its allies (in 1918, 1944 upon the liberation of Paris during World War II, and 1945 after the end of the war in Europe).
Although the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris, the Arc de Triomphe is also as important. It has a rich history and an impactful story. Know more about this historic landmark through these Arc de Triomphe facts
Facts About Arc de Triomphe
Here are some amazing facts about Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is made of limestone.
The entirety of the Arc de Triomphe is made from a sedimentary rock called limestone. As a product of thousands of years of weathering, limestone comes from the oceans. Once bones and shells accumulate on the ocean floor, the combination of calcium carbonate and mud builds up and hardens into limestone.
You need to climb 284 steps to reach the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
The visitors can walk around the base and under the arches of the Arc for free. If the want to, they can climb the 284 stairs of the Arc de Triomphe and have a great view of Paris for an admission fee of $15 per person.
The Arch of Titus inspired the Arc de Triomphe.
Jean Chalgrin, the designer of Arc de Triomphe, found his inspiration through the Arch of Titus. The Roman Emperor Domitian ordered the construction of the Arch of Titus during the 81 AD to commemorate the victory in the Jewish War. Sounds familiar? Definitely one of the cooler Arc de Triomphe facts.
Jean Huyot finished designing the Arc de Triomphe.
Much like Napoleon, Jean Chalgrin didn’t get to see the completion of his project. When Jean Chalgrin died in the year 1811, Jean-Nicolas Huyot continued his masterpiece until its completion in 1836.
Arc de Triomphe almost became an elephant.
Charles Ribart, another French architect, proposed to build a structured elephant standing as high as a 3 story building instead of Arc de Triomphe. However, the French government denied Charles Ribart’s proposal. Now that’s one for unlikely sounding Arc de Triomphe facts.
Two assassination attempts occurred at the Arc de Triomphe.
Among the famous personalities that escaped assasination attempts at Arc de Triomphe were French army officer Monsieur Charles De Gaulle and former president Jacques Chirac.
Monsieur Charles De Gaulle survived over thirty attempts on his life during his time, while Jacques Chirac luckily beat the attempt to his life when he was addressing the troops on Bastille Day in 2002.
A plane flew right under the archway of Arc de Triomphe.
A few weeks after World War I, French aviator Charles Godefroy flew his fighter plane through the archway to honor all the pilots that sacrificed their lives in the war.
The best time to visit the Arc is 6:30 PM onwards.
Locals suggest that the best time to visit the Arc de Triomphe is during the evening when the Eternal Flame for the Unknown Soldier is more visible. Arc de Triomphe also overlooks the Eiffel Tower, Sacré Coeur, and the Louvre, which are best illuminated at night.
The Eternal Flame has been burning close to 100 years already.
Although it is technically for one grave, it burns in the darkness to remember the sacrifices of countless other unknown soldiers who died in World War I.
The Arc underwent victories as well as defeats.
Although the Arc bore witness to France’s victories, it also experienced its terrible defeats. In 1871, Germans marched under the Arc during the Franco-Prussian War marking the Nazi occupation of Paris in World War II.