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The Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

June 26th, 2005 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

The Arc de Triomphe, Paris, FRANCE

The Arc de Triomphe is a monument in Paris that stands in the centre of the Place de l'Étoile, at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. It is the linch-pin of the historic axis (L'Axe historique) leading from the courtyard of the Louvre Palace, a sequence of monuments and grand thoroughfares on a route leading out of Paris. Its iconographic program pitted heroically nude French youths against bearded Germanic warriors in chain-mail and set the tone for public monuments with triumphant nationalistic messages until World War I.

The monument stands over 50 metres (165 feet) in height and is 45 metres wide. It is the second largest triumphal arch in existence (North Korea built a slightly larger Arch of Triumph in 1982 for the 70th birthday of Kim Il-Sung); the Arc de Triomphe is so colossal that an early dare-devil flew his plane through it.

It was commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by Napoleon Bonaparte at the peak of his fortunes and finally completed— after a long pause during the Restauration— in the reign of King Louis-Philippe, in 1833 - 36. The sculpture representing Peace was now interpreted as commemorating the Peace of 1815— not the original intention.

The astylar design is by Jean Chalgrin (1739-1811), in the Neoclassical version of ancient Roman architecture. Major academic sculptors of France are repesented in the sculpture of the Arc de Triomphe: Cortot, Rude, Etex, Pradier and Lemaire. The main sculptures are not integral friezes but are treated as independent trophies applied to the vast ashlar masonry masses, not unlike the gilt-bronze appliqués on Empire furniture. The four sculptural groups at the base of the Arc are The Triumph of 1810 (Jean-Pierre Cortot), Resistance and Peace (both by Antoine Etex) and the most renowned of them all, Departure of the Volunteers of '92 commonly called La Marseillaise (Francois Rude). The face of the allegorical representation of France calling forth her people on this last was used as the belt buckle for the seven-star rank of Marshal of France.

In the attic above the richly sculptured frieze of soldiers are 30 shields engraved with the names of major Revolutionary and Napoleonic military victories. The inside walls of the monument list the names of 558 French generals. The names of those who died in battle are underlined (illustration, right).

The Place de l'Étoile was extensively redesigned by Baron Haussmann, who increased the number of avenues radiating from this star to twelve. In the 1860s he ran a circular road (rue de Tilsitt-Presbourg) round the outside of the houses fronting the Étoile, a planning feature intended to free the Place itself from the crush of carriages that might be expected where so many stylish tenants lived so closely together. Haussmann imposed a uniform design on the house fronts with small gardens at the back giving on to this circular road. Haussmann's memoirs publicly noted that the official façade design, from Hittorff in his own office, was so poor that he had to mask the fronts with trees. But the uniformity complements the Arc's monumental presence. The traffic problem was not resolved, however.

The sword carried by the Republic in the Marseillaise relief broke off, on the day, it is said, that the Battle of Verdun began in 1916. The relief was immediately hidden by tarpaulins to conceal the accident and avoid any undesired ominous interpretations. Famous victory marches past the Arc included the Germans in 1871, the French in 1918, the Germans in 1940, and the French and Allies in 1944 and 1945. Charles de Gaulle survived an attack upon him at the Arc during a parade.

Beneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War, interred here on Armistice Day 1920, has the first eternal flame lit since the Vestal Virgins' fire was extinguished in the year 391. It burns in memory of the dead who were never identified, now in both World Wars. France took the example of the United Kingdom's tomb of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. A ceremony is held there every November 11 on the anniversary of the armistice signed between France and Germany in 1918. The unknown soldier's remains were originally decided in November 12, 1919 to be buried in the Panthéon, but a public letter-writing campaign led to the decision to bury him beneath the Arc. The coffin was put in the chapel on the first floor of the Arc on November 10, 1920, and put in its final resting place on January 28, 1921. The slab on top carries the inscription ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914-1918 ("Here lies a French soldier who died for his country

(Source: Wikipedia)

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