Out of all of Paris’ incredible sights, the Arc de Triomphe might just be my favorite one. While the Eiffel Tower is an image that even the smallest child will recognize and the architecture of Notre Dame breathtaking and inspiring, j’adore (I adore) the arch that from a distance looks somewhat plain, but then up close, one sees all of the intricate details and touches that make it so striking.
On my first visit to Paris I got to wave to it…literally. Therefore on my second visit I was determined to actually get up close to it, climb to the top, the full gauntlet. I did, but I added some extra walking as it took a stroll around its entire outer perimeter for me to realize that one has to go underground in order to access it. This is due to the scary traffic circle it’s situated on; there are 12 thoroughfares leading off from it like spokes of a wheel. My third visit was with D (his first time to the City of Light) and while I did many repeat visits to numerous Parisian sights, that was one I didn’t mind making.
Its full name is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile (Triumphal Arch of the Star) and honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. The arch stands 164 feet in height, 148 feet wide and 72 feet deep, making it the second largest triumphal arch in the world (it had been the first until it was surpassed by the North Korean’s Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang). It is so massive that in 1919, a person flew a biplane through it which was captured on newsreel.
The monument was designed by Jean Chalgrin in 1906 in the Neoclassical version of ancient Roman architecture, modeled after the Arch of Titus. There are four sculptural groups at the base of the Arch and include the Triumph of 1810, Resistance and Peace, and Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 (also known as La Marseillaise). Since the fall of Napoleon in 1815, the sculpture representing Peace is interpreted as commemorating the Peace of 1815.
Beneath the Arch is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. As someone who is fascinated with the much lesser known World War (at least in the United States), I cherish any time I get to see such final resting places. The unknown soldier was interred here on Armistice Day (Veteran’s Day for my American readers) in 1920. It has the first eternal flame in Europe since the Vestal Virgin’s fire was extinguished in the fourth century. Today it burns in memory of the French soldiers of both world wars. Although the idea originally had been to bury the unknown soldier’s remains in the Pantheon, a public-writing campaign led to the decision to bury him beneath the Arch.
While I love standing at the base of the Arch (not to mention where one can obtain some striking photos), it is still a tourist attraction where I would recommend going up to the top. While certainly not the highest vantage point in Paris, it still offers gorgeous views of the Champs Elysees right below, the Louvre off in the distance, and of course the Eiffel Tower. The view from the terrasse truly defines panoramic.
-Admission for adults is 9.75 Euros (free with the Paris Card, which I recommend getting for one’s visit to the city)
-It’s accessible by the RER and Metro (you’ll want to get off at the Charles de Gaulle-Etoile station)
-The two underpasses for getting to the Arch are at the Champs Elysees and the Avenue de la Grande Armee
-While there is an elevator to the top (the attic contains a small museum), 46 steps remain to climb in order to reach the terrace so keep that in mind if you’re with small children, strollers, or someone that uses a wheelchair.