History Lesson: L’Arc de Triomphe
August 21, 2014
If you’re coming to Paris, you’ll surely want to make a special trip to visit L’Arc de Triomphe. You’ll find the iconic limestone archway by making your way up to the western end of the Champs-Elysées, at the Place Charles de Gaulle. With twelve avenues sprouting from the famous arch, you can experience the monument either by going inside, up to the top or admiring it from afar. Whatever you decide to do, remember to abide by the traffic rules (the intersection is extremely intense) and keep in mind these fun historical facts.
Construction began on L’Arc de Triomphe in 1806 at the request of Napolean, who was the French emperor at the time. As France’s army – the “Grand Armée” – had taken over much of Europe, Napolean was looking for a way to pay tribute to his soldiers. Architect Jean Chalgrin was at the helm of the structure’s design, but when he died in 1811, Jean-Nicolas Huyot took the reins on the massive project. The Arc subsequently saw a series of revivals and was finally unveiled 20 years later, by the King of France, Louis Philippe.
L’Arc de Triomphe was designed in a Neoclassical version of Roman architecture, and measures 164 feet tall and 148 feet wide. Until Mexico City built its Monumento a la Revolucion in 1938, France’s Arc was the tallest triumphal arch to have ever been built.
The monument was meant to honor those French soldiers who died fighting for France in the French Revolution, and you’ll find the names of 660 people – most of them generals – inscribed on the inner walls of the memorial. Along the four supporting columns are the names of the major battles fought during Napolean’s empire.
Resting underneath the monument since 1921 is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, who was killed in World War I. The memorial represents all soldiers, sailors and other military personnel who have lost their lives fighting in war. Since 1923, an eternal flame has been burning in his memory. Every year on November 11, a ceremony is held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to mark the anniversary of the armistice between France and Germany, signed in 1918.
L’Arc de Triomphe is a bounty of fun facts and figures, and history buffs will have no shortage of fodder for their mental musings. But while the inner workings of the Arc de Triomphe or its museum should not be missed, a visit to this famous monument wouldn’t be complete without a trip up to the top. Here, you’ll get spectacular panoramic views of the city – so remember to take your camera with you.
Visit L’Arc de Triomphe and other famous Paris monuments during one of our bike tours. Can’t decide if you want to see the sights in the daytime or at night? You don’t have to choose, with our Paris Day & Paris Night Bike Combo Tour!