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.
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.