Want to learn more about this famous French monument? This post will give you all the fun facts about the Arc de Triomphe you probably didn’t know before!
The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most iconic landmarks in Paris and France in general. Every year, more than 1.5 million people from around the world flock to Paris to visit this imposing monument.
Majestic and strong, the Arc de Triomphe is truly a fitting symbol of France’s strength and resilience. Today, this triumphal arch is arguably one of the most famous military monuments on earth.
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Though you’ve likely seen the Arc de Triomphe before either in person or in other online publications, you might not know its intriguing history.
From what inspired its construction to various world events related to the monument, here are 20 interesting Arc de Triomphe facts that will help you learn more about this Parisian monument!
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20 Facts About Arc de Triomphe
From historical events to its impressive details, here is a list of the fun facts about the Arc de Triomphe.
Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon I in 1806, just two years after he successfully took control of France and crowned himself as the Emperor of the French.
The arch was built to commemorate France’s victory in the Battle of Austerlitz and various other great battles including the French revolution and Napoleonic wars.
The Arc de Triomphe was also meant to glorify the invincible French army, which had conquered most of Europe at the time.
Here’s another one of the fun facts on the Arc de Triomphe you may not have known. The construction started on Napoleon’s 37th birthday on 15 August 1806 and some people argue that it could have secretly been a birthday gift for himself.
The Arc de Triomphe was finally completed on 29 July 1836. Unfortunately, it took so long to build that Napoleon I and Jean Chalgrin, its commissioner and original architect, did not live to see it finished.
It’s believed that the construction took so long because Napoleon and Chalgrin were overly ambitious with their plan. The arch was so huge that it took more than two years to just lay its foundation.
Furthermore, the construction halted in 1814, right after Napoleon abdicated. The project was only resumed in 1823 by King Louis XVIII after the monarchy was reinstated.
Throughout all these years, various leaders and architects have overseen the Arc’s construction until it was finally inaugurated on 29 July 1836.
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While the original Arc de Triomphe was built with limestone, Napoleon also had Chalgrin build a wooden replica of the arch in 1810.
Napoleon had this replica built for his wedding with Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria. He and his new bride passed through this ceremonial arch when they entered Paris from the west.
This mock-up arch turned out to be very beneficial. It allowed the architect to adjust the Arc de Triomphe’s design and solve various problems encountered during its construction.
Surprising as it may be, the Arc de Triomphe is not the biggest arch in the world. It used to be, upon its completion, however, the title had to be relinquished in 1922 to the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, North Korea.
That arch was constructed by Kim Il-Sung, the president of North Korea at the time but the monument was still inspired by the original Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The Arc de Triomphe’s design was not entirely original. It was modeled after the Arch of Titus, an ancient Roman structure built to honor the renowned Roman emperor, Titus.
It’s no secret that Napoleon I regarded the ancient Roman Empire highly, so, it’s not surprising that he took inspiration from the majestic Arch of Titus.
But of course, Napoleon being Napoleon, he wanted his triumphal arch to be better and even more memorable.
So, the Arc de Triomphe was built 50 feet taller (15.24 metres) and given far more intricate details than the Arch of Titus.
One of the surprising facts about the Arc de Triomphe is that France almost never got its iconic symbol!
Forty-five years before the Arc de Triomphe was commissioned, an architect, Charles Ribart had created plans to construct a giant elephant named L’éléphant Triumphal.
The gigantic, three-tiered elephant would’ve been built in the place where the Arc de Triomphe stands today.
The construction of the elephant was ready to commence, but right before that, the French government changed its mind and rejected the plan.
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The Arc de Triomphe sits at the center of a square called Place Charles de Gaulle. Historically, this square was called Place de l’Étoile (square of the Star) because the meeting point of twelve straight avenues formed a shape of a star.
Hence why, the Arc de Triomphe is said to sit in the middle of an étoile, or “star.” It’s also why the full name of this monument is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile; another one of the Arc de Triomphe facts most people don’t know about.
Since the Arc de Triomphe was built to honor the French Army, it’s no surprise that its pillars represent important French victories.
The first one is called Departure of the Volunteers of 1792/ Le Départ de 1792 or La Marseillaise which commemorates the uprising that took place on 10 august 1792. Next is The Triumph of 1810/Le Triomphe de 1810, which represents the Treaty of Schönbrunn.
The third and fourth pillars are named Resistance/ La Résistance de 1814 and Peace/La Paix de 1815. Resistance commemorates French resistance during the War of the Sixth Coalition, while Peace celebrates the Treaty of Paris in 1815.
Still on the topic of the arch’s pillars, did you know that they were not the work of one designer? They were actually designed by three people and made by multiple sculptor groups.
The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792/ Le Départ de 1792, or La Marseillaise, was designed by François Rude.
Meanwhile, the Triumph of 1810/ Le Triomphe de 1810 was the work of Jean-Pierre Cortot. Lastly, Resistance/ La Résistance de 1814 and Peace / La Paix de 1815 were both designed by Antoine Étex.
If you time your visit to the Arc de Triomphe perfectly, you may be able to witness a breathtaking sight.
Twice a year, the sun sets in the exact center of the arch. This wonderful phenomenon usually occurs between May and August; however, the exact date may vary.
To admire it in its full glory, just extend to the Eastern end of the Champs-Élysées.
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This limestone monument wasn’t always so beautiful during its lifetime. In the 1960s, the Arc de Triomphe became so dirty and highly blackened due to coal soot and car pollution.
Thankfully, it was restored to its full glory after going through an intense cleaning and bleaching process from 1965 to 1966.
12. Two Assassination Attempts Have Taken Place At The Arc
Former French President, Charles De Gaulle, the namesake of the place where the arch stands, nearly lost his life after Paris was liberated in 1944.
His parade procession was going around the Arc de Triomphe when a few German snipers started shooting at him and the crowd.
Then in 2002, Jacques Chirac also narrowly escaped an assassination attempt at Arc de Triomphe.
He was addressing troops at the start of the Bastille Day parade when a bullet was shot at him. Luckily, both these gentlemen survived the attacks.
13. A Plane Once Flew Underneath the Arc
On 7 August 1919, just a few weeks after the WWI victory parade, a fighter plane flew underneath the Arc de Triomphe. Its pilot was Charles Godefroy.
Godefroy was one of the many French WWI veterans who were offended by the order that war airmen march on foot during the national Bastille Day military parade.
He wanted to celebrate his fellow French war pilots the best way he could — by flying a plane through the Arc de Triomphe, just like the Bastille Day parade.
Thanks to this stunt, Godefroy became a hero in his hometown, La Fleche.
Did you know that someone is buried underneath the Arc de Triomphe? Dubbed the Unknown Soldier, very little is known about this man except for the fact he fought during WWI.
The president of the Rennes branch of military remembrance charity Le Souvenir Français at the time came up with this idea and it was largely accepted by both the press and the MPs.
Since they didn’t know exactly whom to choose, 8 unnamed soldiers were brought from various battle grounds and Auguste Thin, who was guarding the 8 remains of the soldiers was tasked with the opportunity of choosing one unknown soldier who would end up being buried under the arch.
He chose the “Unknown soldier” we now know whose coffin was brought to the Arc on November 11, 1920, but was kept in a chapel on the first floor of the Arc for a while and later laid to rest beneath the Arc de Triomphe on January 28, 1921.
His tomb was built to honor those who valiantly died for their country during WWI.
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The story of the Unknown Soldier doesn’t stop there. An eternal flame burns in front of the tomb to symbolize France’s undying appreciation for him and the French troops who lost their lives.
An idea that was fronted by Gabriel Boissy, a journalist and poet, this flame has been burning non-stop since 1923. It is rekindled daily at 6.30 PM by one of the many veterans within the Veterans Associations of France.
Another interesting fact about the Arc de Triomphe is that its Eternal flame inspired First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (who had visited it before) to make a similar memorial at Virginia’s Arlington Cemetery to honor former President John F. Kennedy who had been assassinated.
After its construction was completed in 1836, the Arc de Triomphe became a rallying point for military troops. True to its name, French troops typically parade through the arch after successful battles and for the annual Bastille Day Military Parade.
However, all military parades have avoided marching underneath the actual arch since the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was built. Even Hitler observed this custom during the German occupation of France.
17. 660 Names are Inscribed on the Arc De Triomphe
Besides the intricate designs and the unknown soldier buried under the Arc, it also has 660 names of soldiers and generals who fought in various wars during the French revolution, the First French Empire, and other prominent wars.
These names can be found on all the 4 pillars of the Arc if you take a close look.
Current-day Fun Facts On The Arc De Triomphe
18. The Arc de Triomphe offers the best views of Paris
Away from historical events that make the Arc de Triomphe what it is today, it offers the best views of Paris. While this is up for discussion but I and many other Parisians and tourists agree with this thought.
To reach its observation deck, you can either climb the 284 steps or take the elevator to the Museum hall, then climb the remaining 40 steps. Alternatively, you take the elevator directly to its observation deck.
From here, you’ll be able to enjoy the stunning views of the Eiffel Tower, the 12 avenues that converge from the arc, Paris roofs, etc, basically enjoy Paris’s cityscape.
To visit, you can either purchase this skip-the-line ticket to visit independently or book a guided tour to go with a professional that will take you through all the history and facts on the Arc de Triomphe.
19. Arc de Triomphe Hosts Various Important Celebrations
Besides the historical facts about the Arc de Triomphe, this landmark hosts a wide array of events every year.
The most famous is the Bastille Day military parade on the 14th of July which sees the French military match down the Champs-Élysées Avenue from Place Charles de Gaulle the where the Arc de Triomphe sits to Place de la Concorde.
On top of this, extravagant fireworks of new year’s eve are set off at the Arc de Triomphe.
20. The Arc de Triomphe Was Once Wrapped
While this was an event that left most people divided (especially those who had traveled to Paris for the first time to see it), the Arc de Triomphe was wrapped with recyclable polypropylene fabric in an art exhibition that lasted for 16 days from September 18 to October 3, 2021.
Critics were divided whether this famous moment needed to be wrapped to cover its historical designs but modern art enthusiasts saw it as a display of impressive art work.
Though the final work was displayed in 2021, the idea of wrapping it came to Christo in 1961 when he lived not far from there. However, he started the actual planning in 2018.
It was initially slated for April 2020 but delayed until September 2020 to make sure that the kestrel falcons who call it home during spring are not bothered.
Unfortunately during the wait, Christo passed away in May 2020 but his work and ideas weren’t going to be left let to waste.
They continued with the project and due to the delays caused by the pand*mic that devoured the world at that time, it was finally ready for showcase in September 2021.
FAQs On The Facts About Arc De Triomphe
How old is the Arc de Triomphe?
Having started its construction in 1806, the Arc de Triomphe is 216 years old as of 2022.
What does the Arc de Triomphe represent?
The Arc de Triomphe represents France’s victories in various war over the years including the French Revolution and other Napoleonic wars.
How much does the Arc de Triomphe weigh?
The Arc de Triomphe weighs more than 100,000 tonnes.
How long did it take to build the Arc de Triomphe?
Like I mentioned about, it took 30 years to build the Arc de Triomphe.
how tall is the arc de triomphe?
The overall height of the Arc de Triomphe is 50 metres (164 ft).
Final Thoughts On The Interesting Facts About The Arc De Triomphe
And there you have it, 20 interesting facts about the Arc de Triomphe. With such an exquisite design, it’s no wonder that the Arc de Triomphe is of the most visited landmarks in France. And, of course, the incredible tales during its lifetime only add to its charm.
So, did you learn something new? I hope these fun Arc de Triomphe facts have inspired you to visit the iconic arch during your next trip to Paris!
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