The Arc de Triomphe. Who hasn’t seen that great symbol, surrounded by traffic but standing proud at the centre of 12 wonderful avenues and at the end of the famous Champs-Elysées? It’s part of L’Axe historique, a series of grand monuments and gracious boulevards on a route through Paris from the Louvre Palace to the outskirts of the city. One of the great icons of Paris, it’s also one of the most visited attractions with 1.7 million visitors a year, and with good reason; the view from the top is breath taking.
A Little History
Like much of the grand designs in France, the Arc de Triomphe began with Napoleon I who ordered its construction. It was designed by the architect Jean-François Chalgrin, inspired by the single arch of the Arch of Titus built in c. 81 AD in Rome. The Arc de Triomphe however is larger, a whopping 49.5 metres (162 ft) meters high, 45 meters (150 ft) long and 22 meters (72 ft) wide, built without columns. The statues around the base are heroic, depicting heroic young French soldiers against the enemy, and commemorating the Napoleonic wars.
Don’t miss is François Rude's La Marseillaise depicting Marianne, the symbol of France, urging the soldiers on. Inside the walls are inscribed with the names of over 500 French soldiers in the Napoleonic wars, with the dead underlined. The Arch wasn’t finished until 1836, by which time Napoleon had died, and was opened with much pomp and circumstance by King Louis Philippe.
Beneath the arch lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, laid here in 1920. Two years later the idea of a Memorial Flame was put forward. The flame was first lit on November 11, 1923 and has never been extinguished. It became the great symbol of liberation when General Charles de Gaulle laid the white-flowered Cross of Lorraine on the tomb on August 26, 1944. To this day there’s a daily ceremony when a flame is rekindled as a tribute.
In 1961, American President John F. Kennedy visited the tomb on a historic visit to France. His wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, asked for an eternal flame to be lit for JFK after his assassination in 1963 when he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. President Charles de Gaulle attended the funeral.
Events at the Arch
The Arch is the centrepiece of all the great national celebrations: May 8, November 11 and Bastille Day, July 14, as well as New Year’s eve when there’s a fabulous sound and light show playing over the Arch. Between late November to mid January you get a wonderful view of the Christmas lights below you along the Champs Elysées.
Visiting the Arc de Triomphe
Place Charles de Gaulle
Tel.: 00 33 (0)1 55 37 73 77
Getting to the Arc de Triomphe
Metro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile (Line 1, 2 or 6)
RER: Charles de Gaulle Etoile (Line A)
Bus: lines 22, 30, 31, 52, 73, 92 and Balabus
From outside Paris: exit Porte Maillot and avenue de la Grande Armee or exit Porte Dauphine and avenue Foch
From the centre of Paris: drive or walk up the Champs Elysées
If you are on foot, the safest way to enter is via the underground walkway along the Champs Elysees.
Open Jan 2 to Mar 31: Daily 10am-10.30pm
Apr 1 to Sept 30: 10am-11pm
Oct 1 to Dec 31: 10am-10.30pm
Last entry 45 mins before closing time
Closed Jan 1, May 1, May 8 (morning), Jul 14, Nov 11 (norming) Dec 25
Admission: Adult €12; 18 to 25 years €9; under 18s free
You can do your own tour with an information leaflet in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and Russian.
There is a tour lecture in French, English and Spanish lasting 90 minutes.
There are public lavatories and a small bookshop.