Discover the history and importance of the Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe in Paris

Discover the history and importance of the Arc de Triomphe

May 26, 2014 9:00 am

When it comes to iconic landmarks and attractions, there isn’t a city in the world that can match Paris – or so they say. With the French capital being home to an amazing array of monumental sites such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and many others, the history of France is written into the architecture of this great city. If you want to learn the full story then there’s only one place to start; the Arc de Triomphe.

As well as being the focal point of Paris’s famous sightseeing route – known as the Axe Historique – the landmark is also a universal symbol of the glory and despair of military combat.

As 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, there’s never been a more poignant time to visit the Arc de Triomphe and more importantly, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which can be found beneath the landmark.

The History of the Arc

Napoleon first commissioned the building of the Arc de Triomphe as a monument to the country’s military victories and the first stone was in fact laid on the famous Emperor’s birthday on August 15th 1806. Unfortunately the structure wasn’t finished until 30 years later, so Napoleon was unable to see the final result before he died in 1821. Since its construction, the Arc de Triomphe has provided the backdrop to a number of military parades, with both the German and French armies marching beneath it in celebration of their significant victories over the years.

Famously, French pilot Charles Godefroy flew a Nieuport biplane through the arc itself in 1919 to commemorate the end of World War I.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

One of the most famous features of the Arc de Triomphe is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was buried beneath the landmark in memory of all those who died in the Great War but who were never identified. Since its inauguration on Armistice Day in 1920, it has come to represent all unnamed casualties of the wars across the world, and is honoured with an eternal flame.

Out of respect for the tomb, or superstition, all military processions since 1920, including the Nazis and the Allies, have avoided passing beneath the arc itself, and instead go around it.

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…

Visiting the Arc de Triomphe

If you fancy a visit to the Arc de Triomphe, which is a bit of a rhetorical question, you can find it in the Place de Charles de Gaulle, formerly known as the Place de l’Étoile, before the name was changed to commemorate the famous general and president in 1970. This area can be found at the end of the Champs Elysees, and is the point at which 12 major roads meet.

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

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