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Facts about the Arc de Triomphe was last updated on the 6th of Februray 2023 by Lena
Are you looking for interesting facts about the Arc de Triomphe? Read on!
When you think of Paris, the first things that come to mind are probably the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Arc de Triomphe. The latter is one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in Paris, and it’s no surprise that tourists flock to see it. It’s is one of the monuments Paris is famous for but it’s also one of the nicest Eiffel Tower viewpoints of Paris.
This iconic structure has been standing on top of the Champs-Élysées since 1836, and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.
If you’re visiting Paris anytime soon, make sure to add the Arc de Triomphe to your list of must-see attractions!
35 Interesting and Fun Facts about the Arc de Triomphe
But how much do you really know about this famous landmark? Here are 35 interesting facts about the Arc de Triomphe.
1. The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon, but he never saw it!
Napoleon commissioned the Arc de Triomphe in 1806 to celebrate his military victories, but it wasn’t completed until 1836. 15 years after Napoleon Bonaparte died in Exile on the British Island Saint Helena, 1870 km from the west coast of Africa. He never lived to see it.
2. The Arc de Triomphe was modeled after the Roman Arch of Titus
Maybe you know that Napoleon was a massive fan of the Roman Empire. He worshiped the Roman Emperors, Cesar in particular, and even considered himself as well a true Roman Emperor. The most specific way in which he associated himself with the Roman Empire was his role as a great army leader. Simple put: he won a lot of battles.
So knowing this, it’s not surprising that the Arc de Triomphe was created after a Roman model: The Arch of Titus, which you can visit today in Rome, Italy. It goes without saying, that Napoleon built of course a bigger arch, more than three times bigger in fact.
3. An Anonymous Soldier is buried beneath the Arc
In the center of the Arc de Triomphe is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was added in 1921. The monument is also engraved with the names of over 600 French soldiers who died in battle. Every year on November 11, a ceremony is held at the tomb to remember the soldiers who died for France in the war.
4. The Arc de Triomphe sits in the center of the world’s most famous roundabout
When talking about the Arc de Triomphe, most people think immediately also about the famous roundabout, that circles the monument. In fact, the Arc de Triomphe sits in the center of the busiest roundabout in Paris, the Place Charles-de-Gaulle.
Don’t attempt to cross the roundabout when visiting the Arc de Triomphe! 2 pedestrian underpasses are installed to guarantee a safe passage!
5. Arc de Triomphe is made of limestone
The Arc de Triomphe is made from limestone that was quarried in France. The stone was cut into blocks and then sculpted into the intricate design that we see today. Although it has undergone some repairs and restoration over the years, the Arc de Triomphe remains largely unchanged from its original design.
6. The Arc de Triomphe is part of the Axe Historique de Paris
The Axe Historique starts at the Louvre and runs east until the Grande Arc de la Defense, the modern arc that is located in the Business District close to Paris. On its way it crosses the Tuileries Garden, Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe.
If you stand by the Arc de Triomphe, you have an excellent view of both sides of the axis. If you head out to the Grand Arc in La Defense, though, you are granted exceptional views of the Arc de Triomphe.
7. The Arc de Triomphe took 30 years to build
The works on the Arc de Triomphe started in 1806 on the request of Napoleon Bonaparte (also known as Napoleon the 1st). When the fall of Napoleon, the works for suspended for 9 years, but continued in 1832 on the order of King Louis Philippe. The Arc de Triomphe was finally inaugurated on the 29th of July 1836.
8. 660 names are inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe
If you look closely at the inside walls of the Arc de Triomphe, you find yourself confronted with names and more names, 660 to be exact. The names belong mostly to French Generals that served under Napoleon. If you wonder what the underlining means that you find on some: those mark the Generals who died during battle.
However, the names are on the longer inside walls. The shorter sides of the pillars contain the names of battles, that were the most victorious during the Napoleonic Wars.
9. The architectural style of the Arc de Triomphe is Neoclassicism
Neoclassicism is the revival of Greek and Roman art and architecture that was a very popular style from 1760 to 1850. Knowing how much Napoleon considered himself a Roman Emperor, the revival came in handy for his venture!
10. In 2021, the Arc de Triomphe was entirely wrapped
Certainly, a fun fact about the Arc de Triomphe, and you probably heard about it. In 2021, the artist duo Jeanne-Claude and Christo wrapped the Arc de Triomphe, as they did already with the Pont Neuf in 1985 and the German Reichstag in 1995.
They developed plans for this project already in 1961. But only decades later could finalize the plans, and had to then face some delays due to Covid-19. Tragically, Christo, the remaining member of the duo, died before the Arc de Triomphe could finally get wrapped in September 2021.
Fun Fact: The rope that was used to wrap the Arc de Triomphe was exactly as long as the distance between the Arc de Triomphe and the Pyramid of the Louvre.
11. The Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of Victory, including for invading powers
We know now about the fact that the Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of Victory. While the monument was, of course, built to celebrate the French battle successes, other nations did not miss the symbolism of the Arc de Triomphe.
By other nations, I mean the Germans during World War 2. The German Soldiers did surely not miss the occasion to march by the Arc de Triomphe after the Fall of France in 1940. The emphasis lies on “by” because they marched around it.
The last military parade that actually went through the arch was in 1919.
However, for a bit more balance, in 1944 the French and Allied Soldiers also marched by the Arc de Triomphe after the Liberation of Paris.
12. The Arc de Triomphe was the target of a Terrorist Attack
On the 17th of August 1995, the Arc de Triomphe was the location of a Terrorist Attack. A bomb was placed in a public bin close to the monument by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria. 17 people got wounded.
13. The Arc de Triomphe almost became an Elephant
In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned the Arc de Triomphe as a victory monument honoring those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. However, the design ultimately chosen is quite different from the original proposal, which featured a massive elephant.
The proposal was scrapped due to cost concerns, but the plaster model of the elephant remained on display at the Louvre for many years.
Who knows, if the original design had been selected, it might have become just as famous as the Eiffel Tower! This is undoubtedly one of the most fun facts about the Arc de Triomphe.
14. The Arc de Triomphe was cleaned in 2011, the first time in 50 years
For the first time in 50 years, workers power-washed the famous monument, removing years of built-up grime and pollution. The project took nearly a year to complete, and involved scaffolding the entire structure and carefully cleaning each individual stone. The results are stunning, and visitors can now appreciate the Arc de Triomphe in all its glory.
15. It’s the 4th largest Triumphal Arch in the world today
Triumphal Arches are very popular monuments and structures to celebrate war victories and have their origin in the Roman Empire. The Parisian Arc de Triumphe was the world’s largest triumphal arch until 1938 when the Mexican Monumento a la Revolucíon was inaugurated. It lost its 2nd place in 1982 to the North Korean Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang.
Funnily, it even moved down to place 4 when the Grand Arc de la Defense was built, the end point of the Axe Historique.
16. An annual ceremony celebrates the armistice in 1918
Every November 11th, on Armistice Day, Paris comes to a standstill to commemorate the armistice that ended World War I. The event is marked by a series of solemn ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe.
A wreath is laid at the tomb in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Politicians and Veterans from all over the world attend the ceremony, and it is followed by a moment of silence and a procession down the Champs-Élysées.
17. Two French presidents survived an assassination attempt at the Arc de Triomphe
On 22 May, 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle narrowly survived an assassination attempt as he was driving down the Champs-Élysées near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. His attacker fired at the President’s car with a rifle, but de Gaulle was unhurt.
Jacques Chirac, who served as President of France from 1995 to 2007, also survived an assassination attempt while in office. In 2002, a man shoot Chirac while he was taking part in a public parade close to the Arc de Triomphe. However, the would-be assassin missed his target, and Chirac escaped unharmed.
18. The Arc de Triomphe marks the finish line of The Tour de France
The Tour de France is one of the most iconic cycling races in the world. Every year, riders from all over the globe come to France to test their mettle against the challenging course.
The race always ends at the Arc de Triomphe, on top of the Champs-Èlysées, which is lined by fans, watching the important race come to an end.
19. Each pillar is decorated by a Sculptural Group
If you look closely, you will notice that each pillar of the Arc de Triomphe is decorated with a large sculpture. Each of them represents a different moment in French history.
The Départ de 1792, also known as “La Marseillaise” which celebrates the cause of the French First Republic. Interesting fun fact: This sculpture has a winged Liberty in it, a motive you can also see in one of the most famous paintings in the Louvre!
Le Triomphe de 1810, which celebrates the Treaty of Schönbrunn and displays among others nothing less than Napoleon himself being crowned by the goddess of Victory.
La Résistance de 1810 honors the French Resistance during the War of the Sixth Coalition
La Paix de 1815 commemorates the Treaty of Paris
20. The sun sets in the center of the Arc de Triomphe twice a year
If you are visiting the Arc de Triomphe around May 10th or August 1st you can become witness to a truly extraordinary spectacle: The sun sets exactly on the axis of the Arc de Triomphe and the Axe Historique.
You can see the sun going down exactly in the arch, which is an excellent Paris Photo opportunity!
By the way, if you took the perfect picture for Instagram, I have a whole post with 130 brilliant Paris Instagram Captions for you to stand OUT!
21. The 14th of July Military Parade starts at the Arc de Triomphe
A highlight of La Fête Nationale du 14 Juilliet, also known as Bastille Day, is the military parade on the Champs-Élysées. However, did you know that the starting point of the march is the Arc de Triomphe?
22. A plane flew through the Arc de Triomphe
In 1919, the French aviator Charles Godfroy flew indeed his plane through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The backstory of this daring maneuver is a protest and one of the most interesting facts about the Arc de Triomphe.
A victory parade was planned on the Champs-Élysée to mark the end of World War 1, but the airmen were ordered to participate on foot! A big affront to the proud aviators and to demonstrate their dismay, they decided to have a plane fly through the Arc de Triomphe during the parade.
23. Six reliefs on the Arc are representing the French History
Each pillar is not only decorated with massive statures to celebrate the big victories, if you look closely, but you will also notice 6 reliefs that are sculpted on the upper façades of the Arc de Triomphe.
These are honoring key moments in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.
24. The Arc de Triomphe was built after the battle of Austerlitz in 1805
Even though the Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of Victory, one military success, in particular, kick-started the project: The Victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. You could say it was the peak time for Napoleon’s reign.
The Battle of Austerlitz is also represented in one of the six reliefs that are sculptured on the upper parts of the pillars.
25. From the Arc de Triomphe, 12 Avenues are radiating
The Arc sits not only on top of the Champs-Élysée, but also on a star. The place, that is called today “Place Charles-de-Gaulle” is a massive road junction where 12 straight avenues are meeting.
It’s an outstanding view if you stand on the observation deck of the Arc de Triomphe, surrounded by the junction and the radiating avenues.
26. The place was formerly called “Square of the Star”—Place de l’Étoile
Due to its distinctive form, the place of the Arc de Triomphe was called “Place de l’Étoile”, Square of the Star. Following the death of Charles de Gaulle, the square got renamed in 1970 and is officially called after the former French president “Place Charles-de-Gaulle” today.
However, even 50 years later, the place is still often called Étoile, and even the Metro and RER station kept the star as an epithet: Charles-de-Gaulle-Étoile.
27. The Arc de Triomphe is 50 m high and 45 m wide
The Arc de Triomphe is a massive construction of 50 m in height and 45 m in width. That’s 164 ft and 148ft. It was for a long time the world’s tallest triumphal arch and even more than 3 times taller than its Roman model, the Arc of Titus.
28. Construction started on Napoleon’s Birthday
One of the most interesting facts about the Arc de Triomphe is that its construction started on the 15th of August 1806, the day of Napoleon’s 37th birthday. Some may suspect that Napoleon commissioned the Arc de Triomphe as a birthday present for himself.
I mean, why not? Some treat themselves with a nice outfit or a manicure, while others have a massive monument built.
29. The Arc de Triomphe was designed by Jean Chalgrin
The design of the Arc de Triomphe comes from the architect Jean Chalgrin, who died just a few years into construction. Like Napoleon, he never lived to see his works.
Jean Chalgrin probably is a name, you have never heard of, but his fingerprints are all over Paris. He worked on the College de France, the Façades of the beautiful Saint Sulpice Church, and built parts of the Palais du Luxembourg. But the Arc de Triomphe is Chalgrin’s most remarkable AND memorable work!
30. The Arc de Triomphe was costly
The construction of the Arc de Triomphe was a very costly affair, especially if you consider it a birthday present. (See the construction date of the monument). At the time, it cost 9.3 million French Francs, which refers to 1.5 million dollars. A gigantic amount of money.
31. The Arc de Triomphe was once just wood and canvas
Napoleon married the Austrian Duchess Marie-Luise in 1806. Roughly decades, before the construction of the Arc de Triomphe, was expected to be finished. In fact, by the time Marie-Luise had her ceremonial entry to Paris, only the foundation of the victory arch was built.
To have it pretty, they erected a wood and painted canvas version of the Arc de Triomphe on the construction site.
32. It’s 284 stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe
It takes 284 stairs to visit the Observation Deck of the Arc de Triomphe. And not just some random stairs, you have to climb through a narrow spiral staircase to reach the top.
In 2018, the accessibility was greatly improved though: They installed an elevator to the visitor platform, reserved for those who need it: visitors with reduced mobility, pregnant visitors, and guests with small children.
33. The Arc de Triomphe was vandalized during the Yellow Vests protest
In 2018, during the Yellow Vests protests in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe was not spared. Protesters sprayed graffiti and ransacked the small museum that is part of the monument. They destroyed a Marianne Statue, a symbol of the French Republic, and it’s devise: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
34. The Arch connects 3 Arrondissements
You read already that the Arc de Triomphe stands on a massive traffic junction, but did you also know that it’s precisely where 3 Parisian Arrondissements are crossing? In fact, the 17th, the 16th, and the 8th.
35. The Arch de Triomphe has 1.5 million annual visitors
And the last (but not the least) interesting fact about the Arc de Triomphe is that the monument has 1.5 Million yearly visitors. It can’t compete with the Louvre with its whopping 10 Million visitors or the Eiffel Tower, which is visited by 7 Million. However, the Arc de Triomphe is in a solid 9th place among the most visited sights in Paris.
The Arc de Triomphe is not only one of the most iconic monuments in Paris, but as you could see, also one with a fascinating and interesting history! So, with its rich history and impressive design, it’s a must-see for any visitor to the City of Lights.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out this famous landmark yet, now is your chance! Buy tickets today and experience all that the Arc has to offer.
I hope you have as much fun exploring this historical monument as I did putting together this list of 35 interesting facts about it.
PS: Check out these posts, they will help you plan your trip to Paris
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- 14 Hotels with stunning Eiffel Tower views- for (almost) every budget!
- Your Perfect 2 Days in Paris! Itinerary & Insider Tips
- 5 ways to get from Charles de Gaulle airport to Paris – THE complete guide!
- Scams in Paris! How to avoid the most common cons
FAQ Facts about the Arc de Triomphe
What are some fun facts about the Arc de Triomphe?
- Napoleon commissioned the Arc de Triomphe
- Once, a plane flew through the Arc de Triomphe
- The place was almost given to a structure of a massive elephant
- The Arc de Triumph was built after the Model of the Arch of Titus
What is the Arc de Triomphe famous for?
The Arc de Triumph is well-known for its military victory symbolism, but also as the finish line of the annual bicycle race “Tour de France”. The Arc de Triumphe is also famous for the traffic junction that is around the monument and for the view over PAris.
How long did it build the Arc de Triomphe?
It took 30 years to built the Arc de Triomphe.
Is the Arc de Triomphe free for kids?
Yes, children under 18 are entering the Arc de Triomphe for free.