A Triumph Arching Through Time

It is no question that Paris, France gained triumph when the Arc de Triomphe was completed between the years 1833 and 1836. Not only was it regarded as a canvas of their nation’s rich history. Instead, it also became a reflection of the city’s rich architectural heritage. Yet, the triumphant status of this structure took a long time to build.

Commissioned in 1806 after Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s victory in Austerlitz, the arc’s foundation took two years to build. By 1810, a wooden mock-up of the arch was constructed just in time for the arrival of Napoleon and his bride Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria. Measuring 49.5 meters high, 45 meters wide and 22 meters deep, this landmark at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle at the western end of Champs-Elysees, the arch honors the mighty warriors that fought for France during the Napoleonic Wars from 1803-1815.

Designed by Jean Chalgrin, the iconography of the arc illustrates a battle between heroically nude French youths and the bearded Germanic warriors in chain mail. This illustration of France’s glory served as the basis for a wave of public monuments with nationalistic messages until World War I.

To add meaning to the structure’s foundation, the four sculptures at the arc’s base were also notable works of art. These are the Resistance and Peace by Antoine Etex, The Triumph of 1810 by Jean-Pierre Cortot and the most renowned of them all, Francois Rude’s Departure of the Volunteers of ’92 which is commonly called La Marseillaise. Rude’s allegorical representation that reflected France calling forth its people, is also used as the belt buckle for the seven-star rank Marshal of France.

Another notable feature of the arc is the attic. The attic above the sculptured soldiers enshrines thirty shields in which the names of the major victories are engraved. As for the names of the French generals who fought with Napoleon, these are engraved inside, with the names of those who died in battle underlined. Also present at the shorter sides of the supporting columns are the names of the major Napoleonic War battles.

Beneath the arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Patterned after the United Kingdom’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, the tomb has the first eternal flame lit in Eastern and Western Europe during the year 391. This blaze was crafted in memory of the unidentified dead during the two World Wars.

On November 12, 1919, the state originally decided that the remains of the Unknown Soldier would be buried in the Panthéon. However, a public campaign prompted otherwise. As such, the coffin was then situated in the chapel, on the arc’s ground floor on November 10, 1920. It was then to its final abode on January 28, 1921. Written on the top slab is the inscription ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914-1918 which means “Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914-1918”.

For centuries, this edifice is the best illustration of France’s glorious past. The gallant history of the French soldiers of generations past has been solidified here for everyone to see and admire. Because of which, the triumph that they have fought for will remain strong in the hearts and minds of the present day French. An arc of history, an arc of gallantry, an arc of heritage: that is the Arc de Triomphe.

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