The Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile is a landmark in central Paris and one of the symbols of French national pride. It stands in the middle of Place Charles de Gaulle, where 12 avenues meet, including the famous and glamorous Champs-Élysées. A dozen streets come together and form a star – etil, in French. That explains its official name, but the imposing structure is known around the world as the Arc de Triomphe.
Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned the construction of the arch in 1806 as a memorial in honor of the French military. It was completed in 1836, 15 years after Napoleon’s death, so it was King Louis-Philippe who oversaw the opening. Its neoclassical design was inspired by the ancient Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum and today attracts around 1.5 million visitors every year.
The Center des Monuments Nationaux, a department of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, operates the landmark, which is 50 meters high and 44 meters wide. With views over Paris from the roof, a museum inside and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier below, the arch is a major tourist attraction and there is often a long line to get tickets. However, visitors who book tickets online can avoid the crowded ticket booths.
Visitors can climb 284 steps to the top of the arch
Arc de Triomphe is open every day except major holidays. Visitors can explore the ground floor without paying the $13 admission fee, but those wishing to enter the arch and/or climb its 284 steps to the top observation deck must pay the fee. Members of the European Union under the age of 25 have free entry. In addition, tourists who have a Paris Museum Pass have free entry. Guided tours are available for around $20; The museum pass does not cover this.
An elevator, generally reserved for visitors with disabilities and families with young children, takes tourists up most of the arch. After exiting the elevator, it’s another 64 steps to the rooftop view. Sunset is the busiest time of the day to visit the arch, as tourists really appreciate the view of the setting sun from the observation deck.
Museum tells the story of the Arc de Triomphe
A small museum inside the arch displays paintings, drawings and models of the arch, as well as documents and photos explaining the history of the monument. Visitors who climb the entire staircase will see that the inner walls are engraved with the names of soldiers who fought in various battles.
On the outside, the facades display high-relief sculptures associated with military victories of the French Revolution and the First Empire on each of the four bases of the arch. The most famous is the Departure of the Volunteers, which depicts a unit of National Guard volunteers fighting during the Revolution. The other relief sculptures depict Napoleon’s entry, the conquest of Alexandria and the Battle of Austerlitz.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is buried under the arch in honor of those who fell in World War I. Since its placement in 1920, all military trains marching on Place Charles de Gaulle have passed around the arch rather than under it to the tomb out of deference, according to the museum. A bonfire is lit at the grave every night.
Visitors to the Arc de Triomphe today will see a much cleaner monument thanks to a major restoration of the sculptures in 2010. Over the years, the reliefs have become soiled with pollution, obscuring the details of the reliefs. Under the direction of France’s chief architect for historical monuments, they were cleaned and given a protective layer of moisture-repellent material.
Take a stroll along the Champs-Élysées
The view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is undoubtedly one of the best in Paris. The famous avenue in the 8th arrondissement is about a mile long and runs between Place de la Concorde and Place Charles de Gaulle, where the arch is located. After enjoying the great view from the top of the arch, visitors can stroll down the Champs-Élysées to shop or eat.
The Champs-Élysées are a shopper’s paradise. Luxury brands such as Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton and Cartier can be found here. Elegant restaurants as well as cafes and bakeries where travelers can enjoy traditional French pastries and breads are also located along the Champs-Élysées, which is considered the most beautiful street in the world.
A vast public park, the Jardin des Champs-Élysées, stretches on either side of the Champs-Élysées between the Place de la Concorde and the Rond-point des Champs-Élysées. Tourists exploring the park will see the Grand Palais and Petit Palais within its grounds. From this south-east stretch of the Champs-Élysées, visitors can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.