Planning to travel to Paris, France anytime soon? If so, then the Arc de Triomphe is the #1 monument that you have to see on your trip. Not only is the Arc de Triomphe a work of art, but it was also commissioned by Napolean Bonaparte in the 1800s. Here’s everything you need to know about the Arc de Triomphe.
Building the Arch
Remember Napolean Bonaparte? Back in 1806, the little dictator had a big idea: to create “a column dedicated to the glory of the Grand Armee.” He officially decreed that the Arc de Triomphe should be built right away. As stated by Bonaparte, this “triumphal arch” would be located “by the site of the former Bastille prison that upon entering the Saint-Antoine district.” Why did Napolean want to build the Arch? Following the Grande Armee’s major victories against their European opponents in 1805, Bonaparte told his men: “You will return home through arches of triumph”.
The following month, Napoleon hired Jean-Francois-Therese Chalgrin, the leading architect of the time, to find the perfect spot to construct the Arc. After looking at several different places, Chalgrin discovered the most ideal location for the Arch at the Place de l’Etoile. In early May 1806, Chalgrin and his architectural partner, Jean-Arnaud Raymond, started designing the Arch de Triumph.
It gets better: the first cornerstone of the Arc de Triomphe was set on the same day as Napoleon’s date of birth. Two years later, the rest of the arches’ foundation was laid. By 1810, Napolean married the Archduchess Marie Louise von Hapsburg of Austria, commissioning a model of the Arch that same year. At last, Chalgrin got an idea of how the Arc de Triomphe would look so he could make changes before it debuted.
Unfortunately, Chalgrin was never able to see his dream realized. Sadly, the prestigious French architect passed away in 1811. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the Paris arc was stalled for three more years due to losses in war and a military takeover. During this time, Napolean was forced to renounce the throne and go into hiding, dying in exile six years later. Nevertheless, things took a turn for the better when a new architect, Jean-Nicolas Huyot, took over the reins in late 1824.
Completing the Paris arc
You might be wondering: when did they finally finish building the Arc de Triomphe? After fresh-faced architect Huyot traveled the world for inspiration, he was ready to create a structure that was based on antique ruins. By the middle of 1825, King Charles X of France approved Huyot’s vision for the Arch. Oddly enough, Huyot was kicked off of the project a few months later by the French Minister of the Interior for not following the rules.
Luckily, Huyot was able to reclaim his position following the demise of the old government in early 1928. However, Huyot’s joy was short-lived. In another twist of events, Huyot was fired from his post again in the summer of 1832. Eventually, Guillaume-Abel Bloue was tasked to replace Huyot. Surprisingly, Bloue was actually the architect that finished building the Arc in 1836.
Want to know some more Arc de Triomphe facts? You can thank architect Jean Chalgrin for the famous Arch’s Neoclassic design. Also, the Arc was completed by several of the most popular French artists at the time, such as François Rude and Antoine Étex. In fact, Étex was solely responsible for the vast majority of the Peace and War sections of the building.
In spite of this, Rude took the cake with his sculpture “La Marseillaise,” or the “Departure of the Volunteers.” His legendary addition to the Arc was his claim to fame. It has often been interpreted as an allegory for France, depicting the spirit of the country calling her people to action. Above the giant depiction of military officers, the Arc has 30 different shields in remembrance of Napolean’s biggest triumphs in war.
The modern Arch
Almost 200 years later, the Arc de Triomphe is still one of the hottest tourist destinations in Paris, France. Astonishingly, it cost 9.3 million francs to build, which was a small fortune at the time (and still is today). If you look closely, you can even see the inscriptions of about 130 different battles won by Napoleon. Plus, there are the names of 558 important generals who died for France on the inside of the Arch.
Did you know that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies beneath the Paris arc? Believe it or not, France “borrowed” the concept from Westminster’s Unknown Soldier monument in England. At the end of 1919, the powers that be initially wanted to bury the Unknown Soldier at the Pantheon in Rome, Italy. But soon, they were flooded by letters from the public begging for the Unknown Soldier to be buried under the Arch.
On Armistice Day of 1920, the first everlasting fire was ignited at the Tomb to honor all of the soldiers that went missing during World War I and World War II. The Unknown Soldier’s tomb was carried into the bottom floor of the Arch until it found eternal peace at its permanent location in 1921. On top of the Tomb, the inscription translates to “Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914-1918” in English. Pro tip? Buy Arch de Triomphe tickets for an amazing bird’s eye view of Paris!