Arc de Triomphe Paris France Champs Elysees

On a visit to Paris you will find it hard to miss this magnificent monument. Built to commemorate the victories of the Emperor Napoleon it is an outstanding work of art and architecture.

It stands in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of the Champs Elysees, which is a crossroads of 12 major streets, all appropriately named after French military leaders. The Arc de Triomphe in Paris is the largest triumphal arch in the world.

The arch stands 162 feet (49.5 meters) high. Its name translates as the Arch of Triumph in English, but you will not hear it called this very often. The French name for it has become part of the English language.

Hotels Near the Arc de Triomphe


Picture of the Arch of Triumph in Paris

The History of the Arc de Triomphe

Following his victory over the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz in December of 1805, Napoleon I commissioned the arch in 1806 as a memorial to his imperial armies. At the top of the Arch are the 30 shields representing 30 of Napoleon's victories, including lesser know ones such as at Aboukir, over the Turkish in 1798.

The Architecture of the Arc de Triomphe

The architect Jean-Francois Chalgrin, who patterned it after the triumphal arches of ancient Rome, was the initial designer. It was left unfinished when Napoleon lost power in 1814 and was finally completed in 1836.

It is an great example of the neoclassical style of the late 1700's and early 1800's. The arch is decorated with four relief sculptures at the base of the four pillars representing, Triumph of 1810, Resistance, Peace and notably the group of figures called La Marseillaise (1836) by Francois Rude. There is also work by J. P. Cartot in some of these sculptures.

Picture looking at the Arc de Triumph from down the Champs Elysees toward Place de Concord

Grave of the Unknown Soldier in Paris

The grave of France's Unknown Soldier lies beneath the arch commemorating the dead during the two World Wars. On Armistice Day, the President of France lays a wreath in memory of the fallen. On the 14th of July 1919 a great victory celebration took place in the city. To this day there is a military parade and spectacular celebration. A parade takes place, fireworks can be seen, a huge flag is unfurled and hung from the vaulted ceiling inside of the Arch.

There is some evidence of an interesting story on the day that the Battle of Verdun began, during the first World War, in 1916. It was said the sword carried by the figure representing the Republic, broke off and the sight had to be hidden so as not to portend an evil omen or misfortune. This battle having been one of the longest and bloodiest battle of the war, it could make one wonder about omens a little more deeply.

Attractions to see from the top

If you are able to get to the roof of the arch, spectacular views of Paris await you, especially the Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries and the Louvre. In my opinion, this is one of those things, as a tourist to the city, that you have to do at least once in a lifetime.