Arc De Triomphe

Located at the center of an elegant traffic circle where 12 stately boulevards meet—including the one-and-only Champs-Élysées—the Arc de Triomphe is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Paris. This triumphal arch stands over 160 feet tall, nearly 150 feet wide, and honors those who fought and died during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (roughly 1792 to 1815). The Arc de Triomphe is adorned with many ornate memorial sculptures, and is topped off by an observation deck offering grand views of Paris.

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History of the Arc de Triomphe

It took approximately 30 years to build the world-famous monument known today as the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon Bonaparte, who wished to construct an elaborate tribute to his military victory in the Battle of Austerlitz, ordered work on the project to begin in 1806. The initial plan for the Arc de Triomphe was the brainchild of the architect Jean-François Thérèse Chalgrin (though he would die in 1811, well before the Arc’s completion), who modeled its design on such classical sources as the Roman Forum’s Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine, which still stands today right next to the Colosseum.

Work on the Arc de Triomphe was stopped in the wake of Napoleon’s military defeat and ensuing exile in 1815, and for the next decade the project was in peril, with some observers going as far as suggesting that the existing stones be razed to the ground and removed. However, in 1823 King Louis XVIII decreed that work on the Arc should resume. Slowly but surely the Arc starting rising again, and it was completed in July 1836. In the two subsequent centuries the Arc de Triomphe has become one of the most memorable monuments in all of France and a modern inspiration for triumphal arches across the world.

Arc de Triomphe Highlights

First things first: the traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe is legendarily hectic, so under no circumstances try to cross the roundabout; simply use the pedestrian tunnel found on the northern side of Place Charles de Gaulle to access the Arc de Triomphe with no issues at all. From there you can head straight to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its moving Flame of Remembrance. Ever since it was first lit in November 1923, this flame has burned continuously, and each day at 6:30pm a ceremony marks its rekindling as fresh flowers are placed alongside the grave.

Inside the Arc de Triomphe itself, visitors will find a small museum devoted to the history of this iconic monument. There you can move through a series of exhibits that tell the story of how the structure was designed and built while learning more about the significance of the Arc’s many commemorative plaques, sculptures, reliefs, and ceremonial flourishes.

For those visitors looking to take their time at the Arc de Triomphe to the next level, there’s the Arc de Triomphe observation deck. Located at the very top of the Arc de Triomphe, this remarkable viewing platform is accessible via 284 steps (there’s an elevator for those in need of such assistance). From this incredible vantage point you’ll have a panoramic vista of Paris and its many photogenic landmarks, so be sure and have your camera at the ready!

More to See and Do at the Arc de Triomphe

A trip to the Arc de Triomphe is an essential part of the Paris experience for most visitors. Here are several more things to see, do, and know as you plan your visit.

•The standard method for enjoying the Arc de Triomphe is by exploring it at your individual leisure. However, those visitors seeking something a bit more structured will want to be aware that guided tours of the Arc de Triomphe are available at no extra charge every weekday at 10:15am and on weekends at 10:15am, 11:15am, and 3:15pm. The guided tour departs from the attraction’s security checkpoint and lasts about 45 minutes; reservations aren’t required.

•Four prominent sculptures adorn the sizable pedestals of the Arc de Triomphe. These pieces were completed between the years 1833 and 1836. Two were created by Antoine Étex: The Resistance pays tribute to those who fought off the foreign invasions of 1814, while Peace honors the Treaty of Paris peace accord reached the following year. François Rude’s Departure of the Volunteers (often referred to as La Marseillaise) honors the 200,000 soldiers conscripted into the French army in 1792, and The Triumph of 1810 by Jean-Pierre Cortot (also responsible for the sculpture of Marie-Antoinette found within the Chapelle Expiatoire) depicts Napoleon victorious among the Muses.

•The various facades of the Arc de Triomphe are covered in six reliefs worth noting: General Marceau’s Burialby Henri Lemaire; The Battle of Austerlitz by Théodore Gechter; The Fall of Alexandria by John-Étienne Chaponnière; The Battle of Aboukir by Bernard Seurre; The Battle of Jemappes by Carlo Marochetti; and The Battle of Arcole by Jean-Jacques Feuchère

•Underneath (and within) the Arc de Triomphe are inscribed the names of hundreds of battles fought by French armies between 1792 and 1815, as well as the names of hundreds of military officials serving during the same time period. The ground below the monument in this area features numerous plaques honoring everything from presidential speeches to governmental proclamations.

•The Arc de Triomphe can be viewed from for free from ground level at any time, but it’s worth mentioning that the interior halls of the attraction—as well as its observation deck—are subject to occasional closures on account of official ceremonies and inclement weather. Any such developments will be posted on the official website of the Arc de Triomphe.

Why the Arc de Triomphe Should Be on Your Must-See List

If you’re visiting Paris and you’ve never been to the Arc de Triomphe, you simply must put this enormous public monument near the top of your must-see list. The views from the top of this landmark make for some of the city’s best photo opportunities, while the ground-level perspectives aren’t too shabby either. Whether you plan on stopping at the Arc de Triomphe as part of an evening stroll down the Champs-Élysées toward Place de la Concorde and the Louvre, or you’re spending the morning at the Eiffel Tower before heading straight north to the Arc, you absolutely must make time for this French icon.