The Arc de Triomphe is one of those monuments that I always tend to overlook. Generally we whizz round it in a car, peer at it through the window, and not much more. (Incidentally, when I first moved to Paris, I was told that to drive like a true Parisian I should be able to drive all the way round it without stopping and without changing gear. Believe me, it’s impossible).
However I was recently invited to take a closer look at it, and was privileged to get a personal guided tour. I arrived just as the ‘Ceremonie de la Flamme’ was ending. Every evening at 6:30pm a ceremony takes place at the tomb of the unknown soldier, commemorating those who lost their lives in war. Run by volunteers and associations, it’s a moving and thought provoking ceremony. Lit in 1923, the flame on the tomb has never gone out, even during the Occupation of WWII.
I was then given a tour of the monumental sculptures on the outside of the arch. Sculpted by François Rude, they are extremely beautiful when seen up close, the detail and power of them is incredible. Built by Napoleon 1er, construction of the arch was begun in 1826. It has become the symbol of Paris during major events: Napoleon’s funeral cortege passed under it, de Gaulle marched through it when he liberated the city in 1944, nowadays the Tour de France ends here,
You can climb to the top of the arch, the steps are actually not half as bad as they look. Otherwise there is a lift if you really can’t make it. Upstairs there is currently a photographic exhibition called ‘Soldats Inconnus’. It’s very simple, but extremely moving and is there in commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of WWI.
The views across the city from the top are spectacular, especially at night. You get wonderful views right down the Champs Elysées and the whole of Paris is lit up in front of you, including a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve realised that the Arc de Triomphe is definitely not a monument to be overlooked!
- Arch de Triomphe. Place Charles de Gaulle Etoile, 75008 Paris
Open daily 10am to 11pm.
Arc de Triomphe website