The Arc de Triomphe holds significant memories for me, as it was here that I experienced the free-for-all as traffic barged its way onto the roundabout as I tried to follow our French friends through the melee of traffic. When I finally made it off I was amazed at their insistence that I could park, alongside a few other cars, on the pavement near to the splendid memorial. By the time we had completed our tour of the arch, the cars were surrounded by local police who, with relish, served parking notices on all the vehicles. What a start to our tour of Paris!
That aside the Arc is truly magnificent and the poignant sight of the "eternal flame" alongside the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is etched on my memory. Somehow the traffic noise was lost to one and al as we all pondered the symbolism and simplicity of the strong messages emitted by the tomb and the flame.
This 50 metre high by 45 metre wide arch is a colossus of its type with some classical relief sculptures exceedingly well preserved, considering the bashing it must get from the polluting traffic that thunders daily around it. Facing the Champs-Elysees the four scenes commemorate The Marseillaise (1792), General Marceau’s funeral, the signing of the Treaty of Vienna, and the battle of Aboukir whilst in the opposite direction the scenes include the capture of Alexandria and at the lower level "resistance" and "peace" by Etex (a less accomplished sculpture than Rude who was responsible for the other main panels).
The frieze towards the top of the arch is cluttered with hundreds of figures (all 6-feet tall) and it is somewhat difficult to take it all in. The shields, right at the top, name the greatest victories of the Revolution and the French empire whilst inside the arch, are engraved the "lesser victories and the names of over 550 generals (those who died in battle are underlined)
It’s a popular misconception that the archway was built as a tribute to Napoleon whereas in reality it was to commemorate the forces of the French Revolution, liberation and continued freedom. It took over thirty years for it to be completed and now it is at the centre of one of the busiest junction in the centre of Paris with twelve avenues converging at the Place Charles de Gaulle and the Arc de Triomphe.
There’s a small museum inside the Arch documenting its history and construction and the admission charge allows you to climb to the top for further views of Paris. I don’t think you miss out if you don’t bother with an internal inspection of the Arc although it is the only place that you can fully appreciate the radiating roads.
It is a remarkable tribute to the French people and historically I was interested that Victor Hugo’s body lay in state here in 1885, whereas Napoleon funeral procession only passed under the arch.