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Arc de Triomphe History

One of the most popular triumphal arches in the world is the Arc de Triomphe in the capital city of France, Paris.

Commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte after his victory at Austerlitz in 1805, the arch was completed in 1836. 

This iconic monument, inspired by ancient Roman triumphal arches, honors the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.

The walls of the arc display various battle names and inscriptions of generals. It’s a tribute to those who bravely served France. 

The arch also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a poignant reminder of World War I sacrifices. 

Standing at an impressive 50 meters in height, 45 meters in width, and 22 meters in depth, it held the title of the world’s largest triumphal arch until 1982. 

Administered by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, it offers panoramic views of Paris from its rooftop and houses a museum with relevant paintings, artifacts and more.

Book your Arc de Triomphe tickets in advance for an efficient exploration of this historic landmark while avoiding the queues at the ticket window.

Let’s dive into some of Arc de Triomphe history and facts, highlighting its neoclassical magnificence that attracts around 1.5 million visitors annually. 

What is the history of the Arc de Triomphe?

The history behind the Arc de Triomphe traces back to 1806 when Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned its construction. 

Designed by architect Jean Chalgrin, it faced construction pauses, evolving through political shifts. 

Charles X’s reign adorned it with sculptures, but turmoil climaxed in the July Revolution. 

Louis-Philippe’s era brought new dedication and completion challenges.

Though inaugurated in 1836, 15 years after Napoleon’s death, it became a symbol of national pride under the rule of King Louis-Philippe. 

Influences and Design Choices

The design of the Arc de Triomphe is steeped in ancient references, notably drawing inspiration from iconic structures such as the Arch of Titus in Rome (85 AD). 

Architects Chalgrin and Raymond also drew ideas from the Arch of Saint-Denis by Blondel and the Arch of Constantine in Rome (315 AD), including elements like Attica and the Corinthian order.

It’s a fascinating blend of ancient wonders, connecting today to the enduring legacy of classical architecture.

Site Selection and Architectural Planning

Once the decision was made to situate the Arc de Triomphe at the Place de l’Étoile, architects Jean-François Thérèse Chalgrin and Jean-Arnaud Raymond embarked on careful planning. 

They aimed for a design featuring a straightforward opening, intended not just to honor history but also to be a majestic entrance to the city. 

This intentional choice shows how much thought went into making the Arc de Triomphe both a symbol of tribute and a practical gateway.

With an Arc de Triomphe admission ticket, you enter history and enjoy panoramic views of Paris, along with exclusive rooftop access for an enthralling trip through time.

Early History 

In 1810, during Napoleon I and Marie-Louise of Austria’s marriage, the incomplete Place de l’Étoile revealed the young state of the Arc de Triomphe. 

Facing unfinished pillars barely above ground, architect Jean Chalgrin came up with a creative solution—a temporary, life-size model. 

Crafted by Louis Laffitte and a workforce of five hundred, the attempt faced labor strikes but led to wage increases.

The Costly Iteration

The temporary construction cost 511,000 francs, affording Chalgrin opportunities for refinement. 

Alterations, including projections and ornamentation choices, molded the future grandeur of the Arc de Triomphe.

Transition in Leadership

Chalgrin’s death on January 20, 1811, with the pillars a minimal dozen meters high, marked a turning point.

Louis-Robert Goust, Chalgrin’s student, inherited the project, leading a new chapter in the monument’s construction.

Impact of Political Shifts

Following the fall of Napoleon and the rise of Louis XVIII to power, the construction of the Arc de Triomphe faced an uncertain fate. 

In 1814, architect Bernard Poyet suggested demolishing the existing pillars.

Despite not expressing a desire to resume construction, Louis XVIII refused to erase the remnants of Napoleon’s vision. 

Amidst political transitions, various proposals surfaced between 1814 and 1823, none gaining royal favor.

Revival under New Allegiances

In 1823, Louis XVIII rekindled the project, directing the immediate completion of the Arc de Triomphe but with a revised dedication. 

The focus shifted from celebrating the imperial army to honoring the Army of the Pyrenees, led by Louis Antoine de Bourbon. 

The army’s successful reinstatement of Ferdinand VII to the Spanish throne was claimed as a victory for the Kingdom of France.

Architectural Collaborations 

Construction resumed gradually under the joint stewardship of architects Louis-Robert Goust and Jean-Nicolas Huyot, who inherited and modified Chalgrin’s plans. 

Louis XVIII’s death in 1824 saw his brother Charles X continuing the endeavor. 

Disputes arose over architectural choices, leading to Huyot’s temporary dismissal in 1825, only to be reinstated in 1826.

Unrest and Change

By 1828, the monument reached the architrave of the entablature, and in 1829, a plaque dedicated to the Army of the Pyrenees was installed. 

However, political turbulence escalated in 1830, leading to General Pujol commanding an army of patriots who gathered around the Arc de Triomphe. 

On August 2, 1830, amidst this uprising, Charles X faced demands for resignation, ultimately signing it from the Château de Rambouillet. 

This event marked a notable chapter in the intertwined Arc de Triomphe Paris history and French political turmoil.

Final Completion

The lengthy history of l’Arc de Triomphe reached its end during the reign of Louis-Philippe I. 

The revolutionary days of July 1830 saw a new era with Louis-Philippe I rising to the throne. 

Unlike his predecessors, Louis-Philippe aimed to rule in a spirit of harmony, presenting himself as the King of the French. 

However, the construction of the Arc de Triomphe, once again suspended, faced challenges. 

Financial constraints, made worse by Huyot’s exceeded credits, posed a critical situation.

On July 31, 1832, Louis-Philippe appointed Guillaume Abel Blouet to complete the monument, dedicating it to the Armies of the Revolution and the Empire.

Inscriptions and decorations 

Adolphe Thiers, the Minister of the Interior, commissioned several sculptors, including Cortot, Etex, Rude, and others, to create allegorical decorations for the monument. 

Their work adorned the monument with high reliefs, friezes, spandrels, shields, and a balustrade. 

Lieutenant General Saint-Cyr Nugues contributed by proposing lists of names commemorating 30 decisive battles, 96 feats of arms, and 384 generals for the attic and pedestals.

Inauguration and controversy 

After thirty years of construction, the Arc de Triomphe was finally inaugurated on July 29, 1836. 

The occasion marked the unveiling of the names on the pedestals, commemorating battles, feats of arms, and generals. 

However, controversy arose over the inscribed names, leading to protests and demands for additions. 

Fears of an attack led to the cancellation of the grand celebration initially planned. 

Only a select few witnessed the event, including Adolphe Thiers and Antoine Maurice Appolinaire Argout. 

As night fell, a crowd gathered to witness the illuminated monument adorned with 700 gaslights.

Assurances were made that all requests would be studied, and Blouet would add 128 names of generals and 172 forgotten battles.

Subsequent additions were made until 1895 solidified the Arc de Triomphe history. 

It marked the monument of not only historical significance but as a dynamic, evolving tribute to the multifaceted legacy of France.

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