Arc de Triomphe Inscriptions and Decorations

The Arc de Triomphe, also known as Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, is a recognized monument that symbolizes the pride and identity of France on a global scale. 

This massive triumphal arch, located at the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, was built to honor those who fought and died for France during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin designed the Arc de Triomphe, and its construction began in 1806. 

It was completed in 1836 during the reign of King Louis-Philippe. 

The arc is decorated with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. 

The four pedestals of the arch display high-relief sculptures created by François Rude, Jean-Pierre Cortot, and Antoine Etex. 

These sculptures celebrate military victories of the Revolution and the First Empire, including the famous Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 (popularly called La Marseillaise).

The Arc de Triomphe’s interior houses a museum that details the construction of the arc and important events that occurred there. 

This article will explore the Arc de Triomphe inscriptions and decorations in greater detail. 

Arc de Triomphe Sculptures

The Arc de Triomphe features four high-relief sculptures on each pedestal, with the first two facing the Tuileries and the other two facing Neuilly. 

These four main decorative elements, commissioned by some of the most recognized sculptors in Paris, are:

  • Departure of the Volunteers (Le Départ de 1792, La Marseillaise) by François Rude

The sculpture pays tribute to France’s citizen army, which arose in response to the threat of invasion by a Prussian/Austrian coalition.

It portrays men of various ages wearing classical armor and wielding ancient weapons. 

The top of this massive fifty meters high sculpture showcases a winged female warrior, representing the victorious spirit of Liberty and the embodiment of France.

  • The Triumph of Napoleon (Le Triomphe de 1810) by Jean-Pierre Cortot 

The sculpture depicts Napoleon Bonaparte being crowned by the goddess of Victory in front of his army.

  • La Résistance de 1814 by Antoine Étex symbolizes the Resistance and Peace of 1814

This sculpture is a powerful depiction of the followers of Napoleon who persisted in their struggle even after his return from banishment.

  • La Paix de 1815 by Antoine Étex commemorates the Treaty of Paris

This symbolic portrayal of the Treaty of Paris marked the reinstatement of the Bourbon monarchy.

Representing French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, the façades of the Arc feature six additional sculptures:

  • General Marceau’s burial 1796 (Les funérailles du général Marceau ), by Henri Lemaire on the right side of the Southern façade.
  • The Battle of Aboukir 1799 (La bataille d’Aboukir), by Bernard Seurre on the left side of the Southern façade.
  • The Battle of Jemappes 1792 (La bataille de Jemappes), by Carlo Marochetti on the Eastern façade.
  • The crossing of the Arcole bridge in 1796 (Le passage du pont d’Arcole), by Jean-Jacques Feuchère, is depicted on the right side of the Northern façade.
  • The Capture of Alexandria 1798 (La prise d’Alexandrie), by John-Étienne Chaponnière on the left side of the Northern façade.
  • The Battle of Austerlitz 1805 (La bataille d’Austerlitz), by Théodore Gechter on the Western façade.

Arc De Triomphe Inscriptions

The inscription on the Arc De Triomphe reminds us of the numerous triumphs and sacrifices made by the French army during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. 

The shields at the top of the arc proudly bear the names of 158 battles fought by the French First Republic and the First French Empire from 1792 to 1815.

While 30 of these battles are engraved on the attic, 128 are represented on the inner façades of the monument, under the great and small arches. 

Other battles are depicted in low relief on the inner and outer façades of the monument, adding to the rich history and significance of the Arc de Triomphe.

Hundreds of significant French generals who participated in those wars are honored in the Roman-style coffered vault, along with the battles, inside the arc.  

Engraved on the inner façades of the small arches are the names of 660 military leaders, with the names of those who lost their lives in battle being underlined. 

Other Arc De Triomphe Decorations

Adorned with inscriptions commemorating France’s military history, the Arc De Triomphe is also richly decorated with artistic elements that add to its grandeur.  

The arcades house the beautifully crafted work of James Pradier, decorated with symbolic figures representing characters in Roman mythology.

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‘The Renowned’ on the great arcade, while the small arches contain ‘The Infantry’ and ‘The Cavalry.’

The entablature frieze features a bas-relief that stretches an impressive 157 meters long, paying homage to the nation’s military history with ‘The Departure and the Return of the French Armies’.

The interior of the arc features a museum, recording its construction history and commemorating significant events that took place there. 

In the museum below the monument’s terrace, you will encounter a permanent exhibition about the design of the Arch, as well as a First World War monument. 

The Arc de Triomphe boasts a ceiling adorned with 21 sculpted roses and several plaques at the monument’s base, including the De Gaulle speech plaque and The Proclamation of the Republic plaque.


What is written on the walls of the Arc de Triomphe?

The Arc de Triomphe’s inscriptions and decorations testify to France’s rich history and military triumphs.

The arc’s walls feature engraved shields with the names of significant victories and French generals who served during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

What is carved on the Arc de Triomphe?

The Arc de Triomphe is adorned with sculptures created by renowned artists François Rude, Antoine Étex, and Jean-Pierre Cortot.

These sculptures depict allegorical figures, significant historical events such as the triumph of Napoleon and the resistance and peace of 1814.

What names are engraved on the Arc de Triomphe?

Inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe are 660 names of mostly generals who served during the French First Republic and the First French Empire.

The underlined names represent those who died in battle.

Why is Arc de Triomphe draped?

Using 25,000 square meters of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silvery blue and 3,000 meters of red rope, the Arc de Triomphe was wrapped for 16 days in 2021, from 18 September to 3 October. 

The temporary artwork was a tribute to the late artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, a realization of their project to wrap a public building.

How much did it cost to wrap the Arc de Triomphe?

The Arc de Triomphe wrapping cost, raised privately by the estate of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, was a total of €14 million, approximately US$16.5 million.

What is the Arc de Triomphe decorated with?

The Arc de Triomphe inscriptions and decorations include:

Names of French battles.
People who died at war, and other symbolic artwork by various artists. 

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