Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe

About Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte was Emperor of France between 1796 and 1815.
Napoleon It was he who commissioned the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon started his career as a private in the army and quickly rose through the ranks because of his intelligence and ability to command. His men greatly respected his leadership and his decisions.

As a General, Napoleon led the French army against most of the other countries in Europe. When he became Emperor of France, he continued to lead his armies successfully in Europe and in Egypt, winning nearly every battle. It was Emperor Napoleon who wanted to construct a monument to commemorate his victorious armies and the conquests of France during his reign.

Napoleon's run of luck came to an end after his misjudged invasion of Russia in 1812. This was a failure and hundreds of thousands of French soldiers died in the cold. During his last battle, at Waterloo in 1815, he was captured by British and Prussian (German) allies. He was exiled to a lonely island, St Helena, in the South Atlantic where he died a sad, solitary man, a few years later.

Why the Arc de Triomphe was built.

Napoleon Bonparte was a very successful soldier-Emperor who conquered most of Europe during the early nineteenth century.

He considered how he could construct a monument which would help people to remember, not only him, but also the conquests his armies had achieved and their bravery in the battles that they had fought. During his travels, Napoleon had seen and admired the triumphal arches built by the Romans eighteen hundred years before. These Roman triumphal arches were constructed for victorious Roman Emperors who paraded through the arch with all their troops, captives and spoils of war after successful campaigns.

Napoleon rather liked this idea. He oversaw the design and ordered the Arch to be built in 1806. It was designed to be a landmark in the capital city. It was meant to be the part of the Triumphal way from Versailles into Paris, leading through to the Louvre, which was the ancient palace of the French kings. But before it had risen many metres above ground level, the architect died (in 1811).

This, combined with Napoleon's military failures in his last few years as Emperor, meant that the Arch was never completed while Napoleon was alive. He never saw his dream become a reality and was never able to use it! The Arc de Triomphe was not completed until 1836, many years after Napoleon's death.

Visiting the Arc de Triomphe.

Around the Arc de Triomphe is the Place Charles de Gaulle. Charles de Gaulle was a hero and President of France. Place Charles de Gaulle is a huge roundabout, many lanes wide. It used to be known as the "Place de L'Étoile", or "Star". This is because, from this roundabout, twelve avenues reach into the distance, forming an elegant twelve pointed "star". When Baron Haussmann re-designed the centre of Paris, he wanted the Arc de Triomphe to be the focus point from as many places as possible and the central destination to which the most important roads led.

To reach the Arch, you need to take the subway passage under the roundabout. The roundabout has the reputation of being one of the most difficult to navigate in France because of the traffic.

The Arc de Triomphe is free for every one to visit. However, if you want to climb to the top, you have to purchase a ticket. Be prepared for a long climb up the steep spiral staircase!

Everyone stops to pay respect at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is located under the Arc.

The Arc De Triomphe has sculptures and decorations all around it, on the sides, below the top platform, and on the front and back. Most feature the woman called "Marianne" who represents the spirit of France. All the sculptures are very much bigger than life size and the artists' works are considered to be masterpieces.

The Arc de Triomphe is at the end of the best known road in Paris - the AVENUE DES CHAMPS ELYSÉES. This is a very popular place for tourists. They like to stroll down its wide footpaths under the shade of the trees. There are pavement cafés, where you may eat and drink. There is also a McDonald's - which is very popular with the French and a "Quick" which is the French version of McDonald's.

The top of the Arc de Triomphe

You can climb right to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for a small fee. You will have to climb 260 steps up the narrow spiral staircase - so be prepared for a long climb as there are no lifts!

Inside the arch, at the top, there is a small museum which has displays about topical events and the background history of the arch. The display changes every few months. There is a souvenir shop there, too.

You can go outside at the top and enjoy the view across the city. On clear days you can see about 70 or 80 km in the distance. Even on a cloudy day, the view is excellent as Paris is not a hilly city and the Arc de Triomphe is one of the highest buildings.

When you walk around, you can see all the twelve avenues that make up the "star". Below are pictures of some of them.

The widest avenue in Paris is called L'Avenue de la Grande Armée. Count the car lanes to spot how wide the road is, then compare this width with that of the footpaths.

You can see in these pictures that there is not much high rise in the city centre of Paris. This is because nearly all the buildings date from the middle of the nineteenth century, before there were lifts. Most are a maximum of six storeys. You may also have noticed that Paris is also a very flat city.

The Avenue de la Grande Armée leads to a modern Arch, called the Grande Arche de la Défense. It is about 5 km from the Arc de Triomphe and the road runs in a straight line in between. It forms part of the great Triumphal Way between Versailles and the Louvre (the old palace of the French kings).

The modern Arche is much higher than the Arc. It is in the modern Central Business District of Paris and you can spot all the modern high rise buildings there.

The tomb of the unknown soldier.

France lost well over a million soldiers during World War One (1914 - 1918) as well as millions of civilians. There were many soldiers who were listed as missing in action, too and who had no known grave. People wanted a special national memorial so they could remember those who had died fighting for their country.

In 1920, the body of the Unknown Soldier was brought from the battle front and buried at the Arc de Triomphe. No-one knows who he is. Three years later the Eternal Flame was lit for the first time.

Each day, there is a special service at 6.30 pm to remember those who have died serving their country not just in the First World War but in the wars and campaigns that have followed during the last century. People lay bunches and bouqets of flowers and wreaths to remember their loved ones every day.

November 11th is commemorated as "Armistice" - the day on which the agreement was reached to end fighting in 1918, at the end of World War I. This day is kept sacred and is a public holiday in France. At 11 o'clock every year, there is a special parade and a service under the Arc to remember and honour those who were killed in fighting for their country.

Facts and Figures

The Arc de Triomphe is fifty metres in height and forty-five metres in width. To reach the viewing platform at the top, you have to climb 260 steps up a spiral staircase.

The sides are decorated with sculptures of battles. Inside the Arch are the names of the battles in which Napoleon's vistorious armies fought, and lists of his generals. (See the photo on the right).

Many people forget to look up at the roof and the internal walls of the Arc. The names that are there are of 128 victorious battles and 558 generals from Napoleon's campaigns and they cover part of the Arc de Triomphe's surface.

Every year, there is always a big military parade from the Arc de Triomphe down the AVENUE DES CHAMPS ELYSÉES on the 14TH JULY- Bastille Day, which is the French National day. Representatives from other countries are invited to take part in the parade. The roads are closed and the French President takes the salute.

The Arc is lit up at night with the French colours and has an enormous Tricolore flying from its centre.

Special moments in history at the Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is the symbol of patriotic France. Some of its most famous moments include:

  • December 15th 1840: The procession carrying Napoleon's ashes to the tomb in Les Invalides passed under the Arc de TriompheMay
  • 1885: The body of Victor Hugo, the famous writer, lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe. More than a million people came to pay their respects.
  • July 14 1919: French troops marched through the Arc De Triomphe to celebrate victory in World War I
  • November 11 1920: The Unkown Soldier was buried below the Arc de Triomphe
  • June 1944: The Arc de Triomphe became a rallying point for Parisians at the end of World War II when the Allies reached Paris
  • August 1998: The Arc de Triomphe became an instantaneous focus point for the people of Paris when France won the World Cup. Three million people turned up just to share their happiness at winning and danced all night!

The Arc de Triomphe means "France" to all French people.



About Napoleon


Why the Arc de Triomphe was built


A visit to the Arc de Triomphe


At the top of the Arc de Triomphe


The tomb of the unknown soldier.


Special moments in the Arc de Triomphe's history


Facts and figures

Arc de Triomphe worksheet.


On July 14th, la Fête Nationale (or Bastille Day) a giant tricolore flies from the Arc de Triomphe

the Champs Elysées

The Champs Elysées leading to the Arc de Triomphe is one of the world's most famous Avenues.

Tomb of unknown soldier

Flowers and wreaths are laid daily at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Eternal Flame

One of the best known strolls in the world. The "flâneurs" love to window gaze as they stroll down the Champs Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe.

Originally the Place de l"Etoile, because of the avenues radiating from it, this famous area was re-named after the war hero and president, Charles de Gaulle.

top of façade

Look carefully at the top and spot all the intricate sculptures.

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