This arch stands at the top of the famous Champs-Elysées and is the center of the very busy round-about (traffic circle) Place Charles de Gaulle . The easiest way to get there is via Metro, get off at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile and follow Sortie #1. Alternatively, if you travel from the Rue Cler or Montparnasse area, bus #92 is a great option, plus you get to see some more of Paris! If you arrive by any other means than the Metro, please use the pedestrian underpass, as the round-about does not have any pedestrian crossings and you would be playing with death if you tried to cross in the traffic. With 12 roads converging into one round-about, it’s no wonder that this is one busy place!
Did you know that Paris has two Arc de Triomphe’s? The one you see here is the famous one everyone knows, but there is a smaller one, called Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, located just west of the Louvre and almost looks like it’s smaller cousin.
The outside and the base of the arch are free, but if you want to climb the 284 steps to the top you will have to pay. If you have the Museum Pass (let’s face it, why wouldn’t you) then you are good to go, otherwise it is Euro 9.50 per adult to get in. As with most places in Paris, those under the age of 18 have free access, and between October and March entry is free every first Sunday of the month. For information on the Museum Pass, please visit my earlier post, which will explain why this pass is a must in Paris. For up-to-date entry fees and opening times please visit the Arc de Triomphe website.
Without the Museum Pass be prepared for long ticket lines. A lot of guide books tell you that if you have kids you will still need to que to get their free ticket, even if the adults have the Museum Pass. We did not have to do so; we got to the line for Museum Pass holders, showed them the passes, asked about our daughter and they just waved us through. The line to get up to the top is something you cannot skip however. Note that the lift is only for those with disabilities and only goes as far as the museum level, from there it is another 40 steps to the top. Line ups seem to disappear in the evening, and as the Arc de Triomphe is open until 23:00hrs during the summer (and 22:30hrs during the off-season) try to go for sunset, thereby avoiding the lines. We went during the day and did not fancy waiting in line, so did not actually end up on top of the arch (again, another one for the next visit).
The Arc de Triomphe is 165ft/50.2m high; its construction began in 1809 to celebrate Napoleon I’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. Construction was briefly interrupted in 1814 by the abdication of Napoleon and once more in 1826. Napoleon never saw the arch finished, as he died in 1821 and it was not finished until 1836. However, that did not stop his dead body from being paraded underneath the arch. In 1840 his funeral procession passed under the arch, 19 years after his actual death, carrying his remains from exile in St. Helena to Paris.
The construction project cost the French people 9.3 million French Francs, which was an astronomical amount of money at that time.
On the arch you will see the names of the major battles since the French Revolution, 19th Century battles are on the arch itself, whereas those from the 20th Century are engraved into the pavement. The pillars carry the names of the 558 generals that fought in those battles and those with a line under their names died in battle. Strangely enough though, the battles that took place during the time Napoleon departed Elba and his final defeat at Waterloo, are not included here.
One thing not to miss at the base is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, whose flame is rekindled every night at 1830hrs ever since World War I and new flowers are laid daily at this time. I always find it quite moving, standing at the tombs, remembering that these young soldiers gave their lives for the freedoms we now enjoy and take for granted.
The Arc de Triomphe has seen many a parade, in triumph for French forces, as well as for its enemies during World War II. During the Nazi occupation in 1940 to 1944 a large swastika flew from the top of the arch. In August 1944, under the lead of Charles de Gaulles, Paris and the whole of France celebrated its liberation from the German occupying forces. Today, all national parades start and end here, with one minute of silence in remembrance.
Today, the arch is dedicated to the glory of all French armies.