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The Arc de Triomphe in Paris

The Triumphal Arch, called in French Arc de Triomphe, is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. It stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the “Place de l’Étoile“.


The monument overlooks the hill of Chaillot at the center of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues. It is located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. This monument honors all those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. On the inside and on the top of the arch are inscribed all the names of Generals and wars fought. Underneath the arch is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I.


The arch was designed by Jean Chalgrin in 1806, and its iconographic program was meant to represent heroically nude French youths against bearded Germanic warriors in chain, which set the tone for public monuments, with triumphant nationalistic messages until World War I.

The monument is 49.5 m (162 ft) high, 45 m (150 ft) wide and 22 m (72 ft) deep. The large vault is 29.19 m (95.8 ft) high and 14.62 m (48.0 ft) wide. The small vault is 18.68 m (61.3 ft) high and 8.44 m (27.7 ft) wide. Its design was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus. The Arc de Triomphe is so colossal that three weeks after the Paris victory parade in 1919, marking the end of hostilities in World War I, Charles Godefroy flew his Nieuport biplane through it, with the event captured on newsreel.

It was commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by French Emperor Napoleon at the peak of his fortunes. Laying the foundations alone took two years, and in 1810 when Napoleon entered Paris from the west with his bride Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, he had a wooden mock-up of the completed arch constructed. The architect Jean Chalgrin died in 1811, and the work was taken over by Jean-Nicolas Huyot. During the Restoration, construction was halted and would not be completed until the reign of King Louis-Philippe, in 1833–36 when the architects on site were Goust, then Huyot, under the direction of Héricart de Thury. Napoleon’s body passed under it on 15 December 1840 on its way to its second and final resting place at Les Invalides.

The Unknown Soldier

Beneath the arch is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War. Buried here on Armistice Day 1920, it has the first eternal flame lit in Western and Eastern Europe since the Vestal Virgins’ fire was extinguished in the year 394. It burns in memory of the dead who were never identified (now in both World Wars). The French model inspired the United Kingdom’s tomb of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. A ceremony is held every 11 November on the anniversary of the armistice signed between France and Germany in 1918. It was originally decided on the 12 November 1919 to bury the unknown soldier’s remains in the Panthéon, but a public letter-writing campaign led to the decision to bury him beneath the arch. The coffin was put in the chapel on the first floor of the arch on 10 November 1920, and put in its final resting place on 28 January 1921. The slab on the top carries the inscription ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914–1918 (“Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914–1918”).


The arch has one lift (elevator), to the level underneath the exterior observation level. Visitors can either climb 284 steps to reach the top of the arch or take the lift and walk up 46 steps. From the top there is a panoramic view of Paris, of twelve major avenues leading to the Étoile and of the exceptionally busy roundabout in which the arch stands. The Arc de Triomphe is accessible by the RER and Métro at the Charles de Gaulle—Etoile stop.

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