Traveling has always been one of my passions. I love the excitement of seeing new places and the thrill of experiencing different cultures.
Sitting triumphantly at the west end of the Champs-Elysees is one of the most celebrated and iconic monuments in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe. Having stood watch over Paris for almost two hundred years the Arc has seen its share of French history, including its most celebrated and tragic events. Today, the Arc de Triomphe is an easy destination to visit in Paris and should not be missed. It’s really much more than just a monument. It’s also a museum that just happens to offer great views over all of Paris from the viewing deck on top of the structure. And it’s a fitting memorial to France’s military past and also the site of its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
A Little History
Construction on the Arc de Triomphe was begun in 1806 under the orders of Napoléon Bonaparte. It was not completed until 1836 and unfortunately, Emperor Napoleon never saw its completion. His body did pass under the completed Arc during his funeral procession upon returning to Paris from St. Helena in 1840.
The Arc was originally built to honor the Grande Armee, which was the name given to the French Army under Napoleon’s rule. The Grande Armee was considered an invincible fighting force in Europe and following their victory at Austerlitz in 1805 Napoleon vowed to construct a victorious arch to honor his army. The idea for the Arc de Triomphe was, of course, his and was inspired by the Arch of Titus in Rome, although the French version now towers over its Italian counterpart in terms of size.
The inside walls of the Arc de Triomphe contain the names of more than 600 French generals and other prominent figures from the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution. Also inscribed is a list of the major French Military victories (128) in battle during Napoleons rule.
The outside walls of the Arc contain four large sculptures: Le Triomphe de 1810 - The Triumph of 1810, La Resistance de 1814 - Resistance of 1814, La Paix de 1815 - Peace of 1815, and Le Depart de 1792 - Departure of the Volunteers of 1792.
Located below the Arc facing down the Champs-Elysees is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which now burns in honor of those killed in World War I and World War II who were never identified.
An interesting story to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is that in 1961 then United States President John F. Kennedy visited the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Following his assassination in 1963, Jackie requested an eternal flame be placed next to JFK's grave having remembered her visit to Paris. French President Charles de Gaulle attended the funeral of JFK and witnessed Jackie lighting the eternal flame, certainly a tragic and historic moment in time.
For those of you who envision dashing across the round-a-bout dogging traffic to get to the Arc rest assured that there is a better way. Simply take the stairs that lead visitors to the tunnel that goes under the round-a-bout and delivers you to the base of the monument. It’s all very easy and much safer than risking your life. Please do not attempt to cross the street here. There are twelve roads that lead into this round-a-bout and the traffic here can be crazy and dangerous.
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If arriving by the metro simply get off at station Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile and follow the signs and crowds to the tunnel. The Arc is located at the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle at the top or west end of the Champs-Ellysees, you can’t miss it.
If you happen to have a rental car and want to brave Paris traffic perhaps you may want to drive around the Arc, which seems like a fun thing to do, in a weird sort of way. Just make sure you know where you are going and where you are going to exit the round-a-bout.
Visiting the Arc de Triomphe can be as simple as wandering under its massive arches and gazing down the Champs-Elysees. To call it a day now would be missing out on a great opportunity. Pay the 9.50 euro fee and climb the 284 steps to the top. There is an elevator available for those with disabilities and strollers if needed. Along the way, you will pass through the small museum and of course a gift shop. You will also pass by the small room with a camera pointing down to the base of the Arc. It’s a fun way to take a peek at what’s going on down below.
Keep on climbing and eventually, you’ll arrive at the rooftop terrace. Here you will realize why you paid the entry fee to climb those darn stairs. The view of Paris is 360 degrees and you have a marvelous look straight down the Champs-Elysees. Look to the south and the Eiffel Tower is looking down upon you. Gaze to the northeast and you have a clear view of Sacre-Coeur in all its glory. Follow the Champs-Elysees all the way down and just to the right are the twin towers of Notre Dame. Look to the west and the skyscrapers of the business district known as La Défense rise before you. The view from here really is one of the most spectacular in all of Paris so do not miss it.
- April 1 – September 30: 10am – 11pm
- October 1 - March 31: 10am – 10:30am
- The last admission is 45 minutes prior to closing
- Closed: January 1, May 1, May 8 (morning only), July 14 (morning only), November 11 (morning only), December 25
- Adult: 13 euro
- Reduced rate: 10 euro
- Minors under 18
- EU citizen under age 26
- Disabled visitors with their escorts
Timeline in history of the Arc de Triomphe
August 15, 1806: Corner stone for the Arc de Triomphe is laid on Napoleon’s Birthday.
1814 – 1826: Construction halted on the Arc following the abdication of Napoleon.
May 5, 1821: Napoleon dies while in exile on the island of Saint Helena.
July 29, 1836: Arc de Triomphe is completed and inaugurated.
December 15, 1840: Napoleon’s coffin passes under the Arc enroute to his final resting place at Les Invalides.
May 22, 1885: The body of Victor Hugo lies in state under the Arc.
August 7, 1919: Charles Godefroy flies his biplane through the Arc without incident.
January 28, 1921: Coffin containing the Unknown Soldier is placed in its final resting place beneath the Arc.
Victory Parades under the Arc:
- 1871: Germany during the Franco-Prussian War.
- 1919: French Victory World War I.
- 1940: Adolf Hitler upon German occupation of Paris.
- August 25, 1944: The Germans surrender Paris.
- August 26, 1944: Charles de Gaulle marches under the Arc into a liberated Paris.
- August 29, 1944: United States troops march under the Arc and down the Champs-Élysées after liberating Paris.
Every July since 1975 the final stage of the Tour de France has finished on the Champs-Elysees after riding 8 laps around the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs-Elysees to the Louvre.
July 14th Bastille Day Parade starts at the Arc
September 30, 2014: Bill DeGiulio visits the Arc de Triomphe for the first time.
© 2015 Bill De Giulio