The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon as a tribute to his own military achievements, but it was not completed until 1836. The Arc was later modified to honor the armies of the Revolution.
The Arc de Triomphe is built on the model of ancient Triumphal Arches, but it is unique because of its monumental size: 50 meters tall and 45 meters wide (164 by 148 feet). The four magnificent high reliefs are crowned by Rude's masterpiece, "The Departure of the Volunteers in 1792"
The structure was designed by Jean François Thérèse Chalgrin (1739-1811) and completed in 1836 during the reign of Louis Philippe. Its deceptively simple design and immense size, 49.5 m (162 ft) in height, mark it unmistakably as a product of late 18th-century romantic neoclassicism.
The monument overlooks the hill of Chaillot at the center of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues. It is the climax of a vista seen the length of the Champs Elysées from the smaller Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Tuileries gardens, and from the Obélisque de Luxor in the place de la Concorde.
Since 1920, the tomb of France's Unknown Soldier has been sheltered underneath the arch. Its eternal flame commemorates the dead of the two world wars. Here, on every Armistice Day (November 11), the President of the Republic lays a ceremonial wreath. On July 14, the French National Day (also known as Bastille Day), a military parade starts at the arch and proceeds down the Champs Elysées.
At the bases of the Arc's pillars are four huge relief sculptures, commemorating The Triumph of 1810 (by Cortot); Resistance, and Peace (both by Etex); and The Departure of the Volunteers, more commonly known as La Marseillaise (by François Rude). On the day the Battle of Verdun started (1916), the sword carried by the figure representing the Republic broke off from La Marseillaise. The relief was immediately hidden to conceal the accident, so that it would not be interpreted as a bad omen.
Engraved around the top of the Arch are the names of major victories won during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. The names of less important victories, as well as those of 558 generals, can be found on the inside walls. (Generals whose names are underlined died in action.)
Inside the Arch, a small museum documents its history and construction. The price of admission includes access to the top of the Arch. From the roof, one is treated to spectacular views of Paris. Looking eastwards, down the Champs Elysées, toward the Louvre, there is the Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries Gardens, and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. In the opposite direction - westwards - in the distance is its larger and newer cousin, La Grande Arche de la Défense.
Before taking the elevator to the top of the Arc to experience the amazing city view, stand by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, added at the Arch’s base in 1920. An eternal flame burns here to commemorate fallen soldiers. As visitors stand silent in thought, cars zip madly around the road circling the Arc. Fortunately, there is an underground passage for pedestrians to pass beneath the busy road. To cross it would truly be a life-threatening endeavor!