Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

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The Arc de Triomphe is a monument in Paris, France that stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the Place de l'Étoile. It is at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. The triumphal arch honors those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. On the inside and the top of the arc there are all of the names of generals and wars fought. Underneath is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I.

The Arc is the linchpin of the historic axis (L'Axe historique) — a sequence of monuments and grand thoroughfares on a route which goes from the courtyard of the Louvre Palace to the outskirts of Paris. The monument was designed by Jean Chalgrin in 1806, and its iconographic program pitted heroically nude French youths against bearded Germanic warriors in chain mail and set the tone for public monuments, with triumphant nationalistic messages, until World War I.

The monument stands 49.5 metres (162 ft) in height, 45 metres (148 ft) wide and 22 meters (72 ft) deep. It is the second largest triumphal arch in existence. 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 in a newsreel.

History

The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. It was commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by 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 design

Since the fall of Napoleon (1815), the sculpture representing Peace is interpreted as commemorating the Peace of 1815.

The astylar design is by Jean Chalgrin (1739–1811), in the Neoclassical version of ancient Roman architecture. Major academic sculptors of France are represented in the sculpture of the Arc de Triomphe: Corhtot; Rude; Étex; Pradier and Lemaire. The main sculptures are not integral friezes but are treated as independent trophies applied to the vast ashlar masonry masses, not unlike the gilt-bronze appliqués on Empire furniture. The four sculptural groups at the base of the Arc are The Triumph of 1810 (Jean-Pierre Cortot), Resistance and Peace (both by Antoine Étex) and the most renowned of them all, Departure of the Volunteers of '92 commonly called La Marseillaise (François Rude). The face of the allegorical representation of France calling forth her people on this last was used as the belt buckle for the seven-star rank of Marshal of France. In the attic above the richly sculptured frieze of soldiers are 30 shields engraved with the names of major Revolutionary and Napoleonic military victories. (The Battle of Fuentes de Onoro is described as a French victory, instead of the defeat actually suffered). The inside walls of the monument list the names of 558 French generals; the names of those who died in battle are underlined. Also inscribed, on the shorter sides of the four supporting columns, are the names of the major battles of the Napoleonic Wars. The battles which took place in the period between the departure of Napoleon from Elba and his final defeat at Waterloo are not included.

Les "Grandes Guerres" and the Unknown Soldier

The sword carried by the Republic in the Marseillaise relief broke off, on the day, it is said, that the Battle of Verdun began in 1916. The relief was immediately hidden by... tarpaulins to conceal the accident and avoid any undesired ominous interpretations. Famous victory marches past the Arc have included the Germans in 1871, the French in 1918, the Germans in 1940,, and the French and Allies in 1944 and 1945. Charles de Gaulle survived an attack upon him at the Arc de Triomphe during a parade.

Beneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War. Interred 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 391. It burns in memory of the dead who were never identified (now in both World Wars). France took the example of the United Kingdom's tomb of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. A ceremony is held there every 11 November on the anniversary of the armistice signed between France and Germany in 1918. It was originally decided in 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 Arc. The coffin was put in the chapel on the first floor of the Arc on 10 November 1920, and put in its final resting place on 28 January 1921. The slab on 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").

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy of the United States paid their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, accompanied by French President de Gaulle. After the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy remembered the eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe and requested that an eternal flame be placed next to her husband's grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. President de Gaulle went to Washington to attend the state funeral, and he was able to witness Jacqueline Kennedy lighting the eternal flame that was inspired by her visit to France.

Maintenance

By the early 1960s the monument had grown very blackened from coal soot and automobile exhaust, and during 1965–1966 the Arc de Triomphe was thoroughly cleaned through sandblasting. By 2007 some darkening was again apparent. The arc will soon be sandblasted again, around 2011.

Access

Pedestrian access to the Arc de Triomphe is via an underpass. Dodging the Paris traffic on the roundabout that surrounds the arc is dangerous. The Arc has one lift, to the level underneath the exterior observation level. Visitors can either climb 284 steps to reach the top of the Arc 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 Arc stands. The Arc de Triomphe is accessible by the RER and Métro at the Charles de Gaulle—Etoile stop.

Notes

External links

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