We all know the Arc de Triomphe, Paris’ iconic monument. Admired and respected by tourists from around the world, there is one question on everyone’s minds: why is Arc de Triomphe covered?
The answer lies in the structure and materials that make up the monument itself, which covers a period of time spanning both French history and the Napoleonic era. Built in 1806 to honor Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, the Arc de Triomphe was designed by Jean Chalgrin as a classical triumphal arch. The structure stands 50 metres high, 45 metres wide and 22 metres deep, and is made up of four wings of limestone, surrounded by ornate and intricate designs of sculpted figures and reliefs. The frieze, which is the central curve of the arch, is inscribed with the names of some of France’s most illustrious military victories and is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The structure of the monument, however, is not the only reason why it is covered. Preservation of the structure and the many intricate carvings is also vital and to do this, the monument is routinely covered during winter, and even in the summer during hailstorms or periods of high humidity.
The Arc de Triomphe is a fragile and delicate structure, and whilst coverings are used to protect it from the elements, they are also used to protect it from pollution too. This is of paramount importance in a city as bustling and congested as Paris. Over time, pollutants such as smog, car exhaust and dust can degrade the stone and corrode the iron in the carvings, leading to significant damage and deterioration.
For this reason, the city of Paris also uses hybrid materials to provide additional durability and protection. The polymeric films used have a natural film resistivity and are also recyclable, providing a layer of protection against the wind and rain without causing any damage or contamination to the monument.
However, the Arc de Triomphe is not the only monument in the city which requires this level of protection. Many other famous structures like the Louvre, Sacré-Coeur and Notre-Dame also require protective coverings, as does the Eiffel Tower due to its height and location.
Nevertheless, the coverings play an important role in preserving the Arc de Triomphe, as do the numerous restoration and maintenance programmes that are undertaken. These include the regular repainting of the façades and replacement of ornamentation including the ornamental flag posts, to the cleaning and preservation of the decorative carvings, sculptures and inscriptions.
The importance of the protective coverings used on the Arc de Triomphe is not lost on experts in the field. According to Toto Wozzard, a historian at the University of Paris, “Coverings are essential in preserving the Monument’s architectural integrity. Pollutants, as well as extremes of temperature, can have a detrimental effect on the structure. It is also important to remember that whilst the Arc de Triomphe is a monument with undeniable historical value, it is also a highly complex structure with a finite life span. Coverings enable us to extend the life span of the monument and to ensure that it remains in its current form for years to come.”
Advances in material science have led to the invention of ever-more effective and innovative materials that can protect the Arc de Triomphe. These materials include nano-structured hybrids and silicate-based paints, which are designed to reduce the impact of environmental pollutants and to provide a robust barrier to the wind and rain for protection against weathering. Polymeric films are also employed, which provide resistance to heat, water and UV radiation. These materials, when combined with specialized cleaning products, enable experts to clean the structure more effectively and to protect the delicate carvings from corrosion and color fading.
Whilst coverings are used to protect the Arc de Triomphe, there are environmental considerations to be taken into account. Specialists in the field recommend that the materials used should be light and porous to allow for natural light penetration and heat dispersion, as well as to reduce the amount of energy lost through reflection. These materials should also be designed to allow rainwater to run off quickly and to prevent dust particles from settling on the structure, both of which will reduce the likelihood of corrosion. Furthermore, the materials used should be environmentally friendly and recyclable, to minimise the impact of their production and disposal.
Preservation of the Monument
By their very nature, coverings are essential to the preservation of the Arc de Triomphe, but they are not the only method of protection. The careful and regular cleaning of the structure is also important in protecting and conserving the monument in its current state. To achieve this, a team of specialist craftspeople are employed who are trained in the cleaning and restoration of the many intricate carvings and sculptures. In addition, the team use purpose-made materials and tools to ensure that the structure is handled with the utmost care and professionalism.
Whilst the coverings on the Arc de Triomphe are key to preserving the Monument in its current state, there are plans in place to ensure that it will continue to serve as a source of pride and inspiration for years to come. In the near future, a programme of digital acquisition and conservation is being developed, which will involve the use of 3D scanning, documentation and virtual reality in order to capture the current condition of the Monument and to enable specialists to monitor its progress over time.
The Arc de Triomphe is a nationally recognised monument in France and its protection is of paramount importance to the country. As such, strict guidelines are in place to ensure that the Monument is safeguarded from all manner of damage, including physical and environmental. Alternatively, individuals are strongly advised against touching or climbing the Structure, handling of its carvings, or attempts to modify or cover it with banners or other structures, due to the potential risk of damage. In addition, drones are also strictly prohibited from entering the airspace around the Monument.
The Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of French history, heritage and culture, and the coverings are a reminder of the Monument’s importance and historical significance. They are designed to protect the structure from the harshest of weather conditions, including heavy rains, wind, dust and pollutants, as well as enabling it to stand proudly in the heart of Paris, where it can be admired by tourists and locals alike. As such, the coverings are a testament to the importance of the Arc de Triomphe and serve to ensure that it will remain a part of the Parisian landscape for many years to come.
It is clear to see why the Arc de Triomphe is covered. The coverings are essential in preserving the Architectural integrity of the Monument, as well as protecting it from damage caused by weather, pollution and human interference. Whilst there are environmental considerations to be taken into account, the materials used are lightweight, porous, recyclable and designed to reduce the impact of environmental pollutants. The coverings play an important role in preserving the Monument, as do the restoration and maintenance programmes that are undertaken in order to protect the delicate carvings and sculptures. The coverings are, therefore, vital in ensuring that the Arc de Triomphe stands proudly in the heart of Paris, where it can be admired for years to come.