Standing proudly at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, the structure reaches a total height of almost 50 metres and occupies a total width of 45 meters diameter.
Originally built by order of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806, the Arc de Triomphe was designed as a monument celebrating French military victory.
The construction of the arched structure took more than 30 years to complete, with its inauguration taking place on 29 July 1836.
The building site chosen for the Arc de Triomphe was known as the highest point of the Champs Elysees. Its primary purpose was to reflect glory for French victories and sense of patriotism.
The original design of the structure was completed by French architect Jean Chalgrin, who was later replaced by a series of other designers involved in the project as time went on.
The wings of the building on either side of the centrepiece feature relief sculptures with symbols of French military honour, while the corners of the arch are dressed with bas-reliefs portraying battles of the past.
The monument has become an iconic symbol of the French capital, and its fashioning included neoclassical and Beaux-Arts design elements, alongside traditional 19th century French architecture.
The original design of the Arc de Triomphe featured relief sculptures with symbols of French military honour, while its outside contained four bas-reliefs, each representing a renowned battle in French history. An arch was subsequently added to the central design, a representation of Napoleonic triumph.
Its exterior is composed of Portland stone, set between four stone columns. During the French Revolution the monument was used for political gatherings and was later used for various military parades. It remains one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, offering breathtaking city views from its rooftop.
In order to prevent further deterioration initiated by the harsh Parisian weather, a project was established in 1990 for the preservation of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile.
The cleaning operations of the monument involved a team of over 60 volunteer craftsmen, who worked in temperatures ranging from 0-27 degrees celsius. Due to their hard work, the building remains significantly cleaner despite the weather changes.
In addition to maintenance services, visitors can also explore underground axes and access to the east and west galleries, thanks to new staircases, where visitors can observe and admire the sculptures of the building, inaccessible until 1995.
In 2009, a project entitled “Gardens of the Arc de Triomphe” was established which focused on creating an artificial waterfall at the base of the structure to provide a more pleasant sight for the millions of guests that visit annually.
Various campaigns have been initiated in the modern era to conserve the structure from further decay and to preserve it as a memorable monument, both historically and aesthetically.
The Eternal Flame
An engrossing element of the monument is the eternal flame beneath the biggest tombstone inside the structure. It was lit in memory of the unknown soldier, and was first lit in 1923 and has been lit ever since as a sign of respect for those who had been lost in the Great War.
The flame is periodically tended and fuel is delivered by a postman on a bicycle. Taking part in this task is seen as a great honour.
Lead officials from each branch of the French military travel to the monument on a daily basis to tend the flame and to pay their respects at the tomb.
Today, the Arc de Triomphe stands as a tribute to France’s enduring spirit, offering a glimpse into its country’s past and as a reminder of what it fought for. Its symbolism of military prowess is spread across the nation and has been recognised by the French people, as well as people from around the world.
Remembrance services are held annually around France at the Arc de Triomphe to honour those who have been lost to war, featuring music and readings, while the flame is tended to with full military honours.
In modern media, the monument appears in films, video games and other forms of entertainment, depicting its relevance to French culture alongside other symbols of the nation.
The monument has also been an inspiration for various architects and designers around the world. Its structural design and use of traditional elements have made it a source of inspiration for many in the design industry.
As a focal point for French nationalism and pride, the design of the Arc de Triomphe has been used in numerous imitations across Europe and in a wide variety of public projects throughout the world.
This is because of its enduring symbolism and its nostalgic sense of past, honouring imagery that is deeply tied to France’s momentous journey through its long and intricate history.
The Arc de Triomphe has become both a symbol of political power, as well as a repository of memory and nostalgia.
Many countries, including the United Kingdom, have replicated the structure as a tribute to their fallen soldiers, creating a bridge between the past and the present.
It has become coloured by changing political allegiances and has served multiple regimes as a backdrop for grand imperial ceremonies.
The original purpose of the Arc de Triomphe was to memorialise and glorify French martial prowess, and to emphasise respect and admiration for those who all contributed to the nation’s military successes.
However, the monument has become a much more than that, carrying over a century of historical significance and tradition.
Centrality and Significance
The Arc de Triomphe has become an essential part of Paris’ historical skyline, and its prominence conditions the way the Champs Elysees stretch across the city’s limits.
This perspective give the populace a total access to the symbolic meaning of the structure, giving title to Paris being the City of Lights.
The Arc de Triomphe stands as an annual reminder of the change and progress of France throughout its long and glorious history, transcending with its cultural significance the hopes and dreams of a new generation.
The centrepiece of the memorial gives viewers a sense of awe and a feeling of being closer to the nation’s deepest roots.
It stands today as a chief symbol of French identity, bringing to its citizens a reminder of their shared history and a unity established in its solemn grandeur.