Arc de Triomphe in Paris
History, Nobility & Fascinating Facts
If anything comes close to rivalling the Eiffel Tower as the emblem of France, it’s the Arc de Triomphe. But what the Arc lacks in height and notoriety compared to its wrought-iron neighbour, it more than makes up for in way of historical intrigue and national importance. Here’s our guide to the world-famous monument, situated at the western end of the Champs-Elysées - just a scenic six-minute stroll from Hotel Balzac!
A Brief History of the Arc de Triomphe
Commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate the victory of the Grande Armée at Austerlitz (1805), the building of the Neoclassical, Roman Arch of Titus-inspired Arc de Triomphe would commence on the French Emperor’s birthday (15th August) in 1806.
Unfortunately for Napoleon however, the Corsican conqueror would not live to see his 50-metre tall war trophy completed, following his death in 1821. As it happened, he would have had to survive for another 15 years to be present at the inauguration of the Arc in 1836, which in his unavoidable absence, was instead unveiled by King Louis-Philippe.
And it wasn’t just the deaths of the ruling classes which hampered the monument’s development. The initial brains behind the Arc - architect Jean Chalgrin - would be succeeded by his student Louis-Robert Goust, whose own work on the Arc de Triomphe would be halted by Napoleon’s abdication in 1814. In fact, work on the structure wouldn’t resume until 1833; this time overseen by Louis-Philippe I and his architect Guillaume-Abel Blouet.
From Decorative Arch to Emblem of France
Today the Arc de Triomphe stands proudly at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, forming a fundamental figure of Paris’ Axe Historique. But more than a mere arch, with time the Arc de Triomphe has emerged as a national symbol of France.
This is in part due to pivotal moments in French history; such as the Allied victory of 1918, following which, French soldiers would march beneath the iconic arch. Pilot Charles Godefroy would even go as far to fly his Nieuport fighter plane through the Arc de Triomphe - which surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, you decide) has found its way onto YouTube!
Though perhaps the most central to the Arc’s placing as an emblem of France, is with its housing of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath its vault. Here, a flame is famously lit every evening in memory of the unidentified dead from both World Wars. Annually, on Armistice Day (11th November), a memorial service is also held at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe, attended by leading French figures, including the President.
Days of Discovery at the Arc de Triomphe
From the outside, hours can be spent marvelling at the intricate sculptures of the Arc de Triomphe: including The Triumph of 1810 (Jean-Pierre Cortot), Resistance and Peace (Antoine Étex) and the most renowned of them all, Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 by François Rude.
Venturing inside - up the 284 steps to the observation deck - however, will unveil an altogether different viewing experience, as you inhale stunning views over a patchwork of Paris roads and rooftops. For the best views, visit at night to see illuminated landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in all their glory, while the rest of the capital twinkles below.
One level below the observation deck, you will also be able to trace the history of the Arc de Triomphe within a small museum, filled with a number of interesting and interactive exhibits!
Discover Paris’ other famous landmarks and attractions with more City Guides by Hotel Balzac.