Without a doubt, we have all seen pictures of the Arc de Triomphe before. Similarly, it is probably one of the most popular sights to be both visited and filmed in Paris. But I have got to tell you that, when Bob and I emerged onto the surface from Le Métro subway stop, the sheer enormity of the Arc de Triomphe and its ownership of the landscape literally brought tears to my eyes. Standing across the street from it, I just stood there amazed, very moved, and in awe.
Bob and I routinely use public transit when we travel, so it only made sense to ride Le Métro, the subway system, to the Arc de Triomphe. It is a very efficient system. The subway line we rode on actually runs right underneath the Champs-Élysées (the avenue seen here) from the Louvre Museum. The Louvre is at the top of our picture in the centre on the horizon.
Having made our way across the street, we promptly had our picture taken with one of the four reliefs featured on the Arc de Triomphe. This one is called La Marseillaise.
The Arc de Triomphe was erected in the very centre of Place Charles de Gaulle, and with several major roadways converging here, it’s a sea of cars and people, so beware! Looming high above all that action is Napoleon’s Triumphal Arch. He had this arch constructed to pay honour to all those who had fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and his Napoleonic Wars. In the end, Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo and was not present on the day the Arc was finally dedicated.
This renowned relief sculpture, which is called “Le Depart de 1792″ (Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), is most often referred to as La Marseillaise.
We also took a picture of another relief sculpture on the outside surface of the Arc, this one called “Le Triomphe de 1810″. It depicts Napoleon Bonaparte being crowned Emperor of France.
Beneath the archway is where we found France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This tomb has been here since 1921 and serves as a place of remembrance and meditation while commemorating all the unknown soldiers who have died during wars for France.
Separate from the hustle and bustle of a busy Paris afternoon, Bob and I took time to study some of the names inscribed on the inside of the Arc’s pillars.
We learned that the names on the inside of the massive pillared arches are those of all the French Officers who led the French Revolutionary Army during the French Revolution. Along with their names are also the names of all the French Officers who served under Napoleon Bonaparte, and who helped him win his many military victories during the Napoleonic Wars. You will note that many names have been underlined; those are the names of soldiers who died in battle.
Many historical happenings have transpired beneath this sculpture of Napoleon.
In 1840, the columns of the Arc de Triomphe witnessed the return of Napoleon’s ashes to France.
A hundred years later, on June 14, 1940, the monumental arches stood witness to another nation’s triumphal march when Germany’s Third Reich’s forces entered Paris and walked beneath the Arc de Triomphe after defeating France’s military forces.
Recently, like so many millions of people, Bob and I saw the motion picture Les Misérables. We owe thanks to Victor Hugo for having written such a moving story. This year’s movie is, without a doubt, a film that will go down in history, and along with another French movie, Amélie, they are must-sees before you travel to Paris.
Years ago, Bob and I attended a stage production of Les Misérables when it was running in Toronto. For me, it was one of the most powerful and memorable musicals that I have ever seen. Victor Hugo wrote the story in 1830, just 26 years after the Revolution ended, and after Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804, but the story is still as poignant today as it was then.
Les Misérables was finally published as a book in 1862. During his life, Victor Hugo wrote many other famous poems and stories, among them the tale of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Victor Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885. Prior to his death, he had requested a pauper’s funeral, but the French people, in a show of love for him, had his coffin laid at the Arc de Triomphe for an all-night vigil. The following day, two million people attended his funeral procession, which took six hours to pass by.
With the amber rays of a brilliant sunset gilding the Arc de Triomphe, the shadows of history were banished, and the monument assumed its rightful prominence in the City of Light. And to think that we were standing where horses once paraded, soldiers marched, and important historical dignitaries were celebrated!
Checkout some of our other postings from France
Frame To Frame.ca