Friday, February 3, 2023

Arc de Triomphe

by: Rebecca May Davie

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, is almost as synonymous with the City of Lights as is the Eiffel Tower. Movies depict daring drivers as they circle the great monument at breakneck speeds. A recent event covered the entire arch in fabric, honoring artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Daily, visitors strive to climb the stairs for the view from above. Through these arenas and more, many see the 162-foot tall and 150-foot wide Triumphal Arc from around and on top. Rather than looking within the typical scope, let's take a gander from another angle.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

Base: Underneath the Arc lies the tomb of the unknown soldier. With World War I, repatriation of fallen soldiers became difficult. The volume of lost lives caused France to bar this practice and inter soldiers in the countries where they were slain. To provide a location for French families to mourn, France repatriated and buried one unknown soldier from WWI. On Armistice Day, November 11, 1920, the Unknown Soldier was laid to rest beneath the Arc de Triomphe. This soldier represents the French service members who were not identified and those who were buried in other countries. The eternal flame burns in their memory. The inscription reads: “Ici repose un soldat Français mort pour la patrie 1914-1918.” Here lies a French soldier who died for the Fatherland.

Looking up: Peering at the underside of the arch, lists of generals' names can be seen on the arcades at the sides. The attic above features 30 shields engraved with the names of the main victories.

The Arc as a structure honors the individuals who fought for
France and died during the French Revolution as well as the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon I commissioned the arch in celebration of the victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. The first stone was placed on his birthday in 1806. The construction spanned 36 years. He did not see the completion of his project.

On the outsides of the Arc are four relief sculptures. The "Entry of Napoleon" is visible in the photo at left. The other three sides feature "The Departure of the Volunteers" or "La Marseillaise," "The Battle of Austerlitz," and "The Conquest of Alexandria."

Going up: After climbing 284 steps, a small museum is available to peruse. It contains interactive exhibits explaining the history. Climb 40 more stairs to ascend to the roof.

On top: from the observation deck there is a 365 degree panorama of the twelve streets emanating from the Arc. This location at the western end of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées was named Place de l’Étoile (Star Square - because of the streets meeting at the circular plaza - renamed Charles de Gaulle Étoile. The 19th century Haussmannian architecture is easily seen from this vantage point. The majority of these buildings are six stories high with similarly shaped roof structures, stone facades, and second floor balconies of wrought iron with elaborate stone around the windows. Major landmarks are visible such as the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, the Montparnasse Tower, and Sacre Coeur.


Several events transpired at this edifice over the years. Many important French figures such as Victor Hugo have lain in state at the Arc before they were buried. Soldiers marched in victory, both German and French. The last major soldier parade occurred in 1945 after the end of World War II in Europe.

Today, the Arc serves the purpose of honoring victories and the fallen. In addition, it provides people with history and a view of the city. Personally, I enjoy the sights from this location more than from atop the “Iron Lady" (Eiffel Tower). 

The next time you see an image, video, or clip in a movie of the Arc de Triomphe, perhaps you will remember the meaning behind the symbol. Men and women fought for freedom. While the victories are celebrated, we also honor their sacrifice.

As a child, Rebecca loved to write. She nurtured this skill as an educator and later as an editor for an online magazine. Rebecca then joined the Cru Ministry - NBS2GO/Neighbor Bible Studies 2GO, at its inception. She serves as the YouVersion Content Creator, with over 75 Plans on the app.

At left, Rebecca visited the top of the Arc de Triomphe for the first time in the summer of 1991. Bottom Right is the latest visit from a 2022 research trip with fellow Heroes, Heroines, and History blogger, Cindy Stewart. All photos in this post were taken by Rebecca and friends.

Rebecca lives in the mountains with her husband and a rescued dog named Ranger. If it were up to her, she would be traveling - right now. As a member of ACFW, FHLCW, and Hope*Writers, Rebecca learns the craft of fiction while networking with a host of generous writers. She is working on her first fiction novel. This story unfolds from the 1830s in Northern Georgia.

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  1. Thanks for such an interesting and informative post. I didn't know the Arc contained a tomb of an unknown soldier or the generals' names. The photos are wonderful.

  2. Thank you for posting today! The Arc sounds so interesting, and you've given me a great glimpse into its' significance.