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At the top of the Arc de Triomphe: Paris from a different perspective

Translated by Helen Hardy — 4 years ago

Original text by Nuri Mercury

When people ask me if I've been to Paris and what I saw there, one of the first things I mention is the Arc de Triomphe. Clearly, it's one of the main monuments in Paris along with the Eiffel Tower. It's one of the most famous military monuments not only in the City of Lights, but also in the entire world.

The Arc de Triomphe can be found at the end (or at the beginning, depending on perspective) of the famous Avenue des Champs Elysées - the long, wide Parisian avenue along which hundreds and hundreds of prestigious boutiques and shops can be found.

The full name of the monument in French is L'arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile. At fifty metres high, it's an incredibly impressive monument.

At the top of the Arc de Triomphe: Paris from a different perspective

A little bit of history...

I won't write too much here, as a monument of this kind is steeped in history and symbolism. I'll just say that it was built to celebrate the triumph of Napoleon Bonaparte (yes, the one and only) at the Battle of Austerlitz. Since it was Napoleon himself who commissioned the arch, it is logical that the monument is stunning.

... and little bit on the architecture

If I explained the numerous details of the Arc de Triomphe and what each and every one symbolizes, we've be here for a very long time. I'll just say quickly that the the scenes which can be seen on the different faces of the arch correspond to the first triumphs of Napoleon. In one of these scenes, you can see Napoleon himself being crowned with a laurel wreath. The laurel is a symbol of victory. Above him, you can see an angel holding a trumpet and a sceptre, together symbolising the announcement of Napoleon's victory (as is quite obvious, Napoleon was quite big-headed! :P I remember that when I visited his tomb, there were also lots of scenes depicting him as a god).

I've visited the Arc de Triomphe on more than one occasion, and I find it breathtaking every time. Since it's so detailed, I could spend hours and hours studying it. I've never been on a guided tour of the arch, but I'd definitely be very interested to know what each part means.

The Monument to the Unknown Soldier

Just below the Arc de Triomphe is an eternal flame. This is the location of the tomb of the unknown soldier, who died in the First World War. It's also a monument dedicated to all the unknown soldiers who died during this period, and there are always flowers and wreaths laid here.

The flame, as I said, is eternal - it's never put out. For the sake of an anecdote though, people have told me that there was one occasion on which it was put out... somebody went to pee on it and put it out. To top it all off, apparently it was a Mexican!...

A panoramic view of Paris

Visiting the Arc de Triomphe doesn't mean just standing underneath it and gawping. In fact, you can climb to the top of the monument. From up there, you have a magnificent view of Paris, the City of Lights.

I'd never done this, despite having visited the arch two or three times. When I went to Paris with my sister and my mum, we went to the Arc de Triomphe and my mum wanted to go up it. It had never occurred to me to do it, and every time I'd walked past I'd seen long lines of people queuing to go in, which put me off. We got in line though and even though I still wasn't entirely convinced (:P), in the end it didn't take us too long to get to the front of the queue and buy our tickets.

If in Mexico children under 3 years of age go free on the bus, a similar scheme runs at the Arc de Triomphe. :P Young people under 18, plus residents or students in the European Union up to age 25... go free! This is applicable to French people as well as foreigners.

At the top of the Arc de Triomphe: Paris from a different perspective

The tall buildings and skyscrapers in the background form part of what's known as 'La Défense': the executive and financial district of Paris.

Bear in mind that if you're foreign, you'll need to show your visa or a photo of it in order to get in for free. I almost didn't get in for free because all I had with me was my student ID card. >. < The guy at the ticket booth that day was such an idiot that although it's logical that if I have a French student card with my name and date of birth on it, it's because I'm a legal resident in France, he still wanted to see my visa. Fortunately, I remembered that I had a photo of it on my phone, and although I spent about ten minutes looking for it and the guy was hurrying me, I stood my ground. When I finally found it, I showed it to him triumphantly! :D Bam, checkmate! This was my moment of triumph at the Arc de Triomphe... muhahaha! So, don't let yourselves be intimidated by their attitude and if you have a European visa, show it to them and enjoy your free entry. ^^

You can use the stairs to go up the monument (the ticket booth workers will tell you where to go), and there is also a lift, which we used. It's entirely free, and the choice is yours. :D

The view!

The view of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe is beautiful. From this high up, you're able to clearly distinguish the two faces of the city. On the one side, you can see classical Paris, with its characteristic buildings and architecture. On the other, you can distinguish the more modern and vanguard Paris, with its skyscrapers in the 'La Défense' district. The financial headquarters of the biggest and most important companies in Paris are located here.

Another thing we noticed and which seemed odd to me was that from the top of the arch we could see gardens on Parisian terraces. Yes, that's right, we could see gardens which had been built on the roofs of buildings. There were actually lots of them. If I hadn't seen them on that day, I never would have imagined that they existed. In general, you think of Paris as a place without many green areas since it's such a huge city, but I think that the lack of space and overpopulation has lead people to look for alternatives. These gardens weren't only on top of particular houses, either. They were also on top of work offices. Can you imagine working at a place like that? It must be very original!

At the top of the Arc de Triomphe: Paris from a different perspective

The museum and the gift shop

Between the ground and the roof, the Arc de Triomphe has a little surprise for you. You can visit a small museum which explains a little about the history and architecture of the monument. I say a little, since if you want to know more about this place, you can buy one of the books on the Arc de Triomphe they sell in the gift shop. If you want any souvenirs, you can also buy keyrings, post cards, mugs, pencils and more knick knacks from here. Although they can be a little expensive, the souvenirs from this gift shop are prettier than those you find on the street and are better quality too (although to be honest, they are all 'Made in China' :D).

My mum bought some postcards to send to her friends in Mexico, and also two keyrings. When we were at the till, I saw that the shop assistant had a roll of stickers with the logo 'Monuments of France' on them, and I asked her how much they cost. She said they were free, and that she could give me one if I wanted. She ended up giving me two or three for free - so if you want free stickers, just smile at the girl at the till! :)

How to get there

I remember that when I did my French A Level, one of my teachers told us that when she visited the Arc de Triomphe she couldn't find the pedestrian walkway to cross the road safely, since the monument is actually also a very busy roundabout. She tried to cross as safely as she could, and got told off by the police: she should have used the underground walkways which lead to the arch. The lesson here: use the underground walkways to get there instead of trying to dodge cars! :P

I remembered this anecdote and the first time I went to Paris, I immediately looked for the underground walkway that leads you to the Arc de Triomphe. There are two in total I think, but they're a bit hard to find. When you arrive, look for them or ask somebody in the street where to find them. :) Don't risk your life trying to cross the road, and what's more, risk being scolded by a French policeman. :P

Some more advice:

  • In terms of public transport, there are several buses which stop near the arch, but it's best to get the metro. Charles de Gaulle - Étoile metro station is right next to the monument. Use metro lines 1, 2 and 6 and TER line A to reach it. Bus lines you can catch to get there are 22, 30, 31, 52, 73 or 92.

  • Taking a tour through Paris on the 'turibuses' may be a good idea. These buses have two decks and take you around the main places in the city. The Arc de Triomphe forms part of its itinerary - it would be ridiculous if it didn't!

At the top of the Arc de Triomphe: Paris from a different perspective

A view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the centre. If you look closely, you can see the rooftop gardens I mentioned earlier. :)

Opening hours

  • The Arc de Triomphe is open every day of the year, although its opening hours vary according by season. From April 1st to September 30th, it's open from 10am to 11pm. From October 1st to March 31st, it's open from 10am to 10. 30pm. There are some days, however, on which the Arc de Triomphe is closed. These days are listed on their website, so check the list in advance if you are planning a visit. You don't want to turn up and find it closed!
  • Although the monument closes at 10. 30pm or 11pm, depending on the season, I don't think you'll be allowed in if you arrive ten minutes before closing time. Last admission is 45 minutes before closing time - so around 9. 45pm or 10. 15pm, depending on the month you visit in. Remember this! :)
  • One last piece of advice: on some days, such as public holidays, the monument is completely or partially closed. This only happens around five or six times a year, but always check online to be sure. ^^
  • In terms of costs, an adult entrance ticket costs 8. 50 euros. If you're under 18, or a European citizen (or have a EU visa) and are between 18 and 25 years old, entrance is free.

In conclusion, the Arc de Triomphe is a must-see in Paris. Make the most of your stay in the City of Lights. Visit this important monument, and if you have time, go up to the top. It'll change your perspective of Paris. :)

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