Arc de Triomphe Paris

The Arc de Triomphe Paris, the most monumental of all triumphal arches, was built between 1806 and 1836. Even though there were many modifications from the original plans, reflecting political changes and power struggles, the Arch still retains the essence of the original concept which was a powerful, unified ensemble. 

The Arc de Triomphe stands at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the “Place de l’Étoile”. It’s located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. The arches whole decorative style is entirely of the tradition of sculpture from the first half of the nineteenth century.

The triumphal arch is in honor of those who fought for France, in particular, those who fought during the Napoleonic Wars. Engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch are all of the names of the generals and wars fought. There are inscriptions in the ground underneath the vault of the arch which include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I where  the Memorial Flame burns and have made the Arc de Triomphe Paris a revered patriotic site. 

The monument is considered the linchpin of the historic axis (L’Axe historique) — a sequence of monuments and grand thoroughfares on a route which stretches from the courtyard of the Louvre Palace to the outskirts of Paris. 

Groups, friezes, figures and bas-reliefs are the signature works of James Pradier, Antoine Etex and Jean-Pierre Cortot. But there is no question that the most celebrated sculpture is the work of Francois Rude: La Marseillaise.

The Arc de Triomphe stands 49.5 m (162 ft) tall, 45 m (150 ft) wide and 22 m (72 ft) deep. The vault is 29.19 m (95.8 ft) high and 14.62 m (48.0 ft) wide. The smaller vault is 18.68 m (61.3 ft) high and 8.44 m (27.7 ft) wide.

The Arc de Triomphe Paris’ Memorial Flame

Two years after the inhumation of the Unknown Soldier, journalist and poet Gabriel Boissy launched the idea of a Memorial Flame, which immediately received enthusiastic public approbation. With active support from Andre Maginot 9then Minister of War), Leon berard (Minister of State Education), and Paul Leon (Director of Fine Arts), the project advanced rapidly. 

Edgar Brandt, a wroughtiron craftsman, was selected to execute the torch, designed by architect Henri Favier: a circular bronze shield at the centre of which opened a cannon muzzle from which radiated a frieze of swords. On 11 November 1923, surrounded by a multitude of former combatants, Maginot ignited the flame for the first time. Since that moment, the flame has never been extinguished. 

A daily ritual pays tribute to the Great Dead: each evening, at six-thirty, a flame is rekindled by one of the nine hundred associations of former combatants regrouped under the association La Flamme sous l’Arc de Triomphe. During the Occupation, this daily kindling rite was performed unperturbed. On 26 August 1844 at three o’clock in the afternoon, before descending triumphantly down to Champs-Elysees within liberated Paris, general Charles de Gaulle came to lay down the white-flowered Cross of Lorraine on the Tomb of the unknown Soldier. Since then, the Arc de Triomphe has provided the framework for all great national celebrations: 11 November, 8 May, and, of course, the national fete of 14 July.

The Unknown Soldier At The Arc de Triomphe

Beginning in 1916, an idea developed to open the doors of the Pantheon so that people could view “one of the unknown soldiers who died valiantly for his country” and on whose tomb would be inscribed just two words, “A Soldier”, and the date, “1914-191?”.

Espoused in 1918 and supported by a fervent press campaign, the proposition was ultimately accepted. On 12 November 1919, the Chamber of Deputies decided that the anonymous remains of the French soldier killed in combat would be transferred to the Pantheon. Meanwhile, associations of former combatants challenged the choice of the site, preferring to affirm the exceptional character of his death, symbol of the hundreds of thousands of others killed in action. The author Binet-Valmer led a virulent campaign to entomb this Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.

On 8 November 1920, the deputies unanimously voted in a law, equally approved unanimously by the Senate, which awarded the honours of the Pantheon “to the remains of one 1914-1918 war”. At three o’clock in the afternoon on 10 November 1920, in a blockhouse at the Verdun citadel transformed into a chapel, a young infantry-man laid down a bouquet of flowers (gathered from the battlefield of Verdun) on one of eight identical coffins brought back from different zones at the Front: Flanders, Artois, the Somme. Ili-de-France, Chemin-des-Dames, Shampagne, Verdun, Lorraine. On 11 November, the tank transporting Leon Gambetta’s heart and the gun carriage bearing the Unknown Soldier’s remains rejoined the Arc de Triomphe.

The catafalque of the Unknown Soldier was lifted into one of the interior chambers of the edifice. A permanent guard was organized until the final humiliation on 28 January 1921 at the centre point of the principal arch facing upon the Champa-Elysees. In the presence of British Prime Minister Lloyd George, Marshall Foch, Joffre, and Petain, and all government, the Minister of War Louis Barthou laid down the Legion of Honor, the Military Medal, and the Military Cross on the tri-color flag covering the coffin, in “supreme homage from the country to the humble and anonymous heroes who fell for her”. Following this ceremony, the Unknown Soldier was at last placed in his tomb where he remains today.