Napoleon Bonaparte came up with the idea of a triumphal arch to salute the victories of his imperial armies in 1806. Napoleon voiced his plan shortly after his victory at Austerlitz. He had in mind the triumphal arches built in ancient Rome after the conquests of various generals and emperors.
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile was to be the world’s largest and most grand triumphal arch. Bonaparte commissioned Jean François Thérèse Chalgrin to design the monument. It was to be the focus of the view seen from the length of the Champs Elysées. It was hoped that the structure would become an important symbol of French patriotism.
Bas Relief sculptures are found at the base of each of the four main pillars depicting victories and war scenes. Across the top are the names of the major accomplishments of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods in France. Minor victories and the names of 558 generals are etched into the inner walls.
The grand and elegant yet simple design demonstrates that the architecture was inspired by the thinking of the late 18th Century Romantic Neoclassic school. It stands 50-metres tall, 45-metres wide, and 22-metres deep. The foundations of the structure were laid in 1808. Construction was temporarily halted in 1814 during the Bourbon Restoration. Construction resumed in 1833 during the reign of Louis Pillippe.
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile was finally inaugurated on July 29, 1836 by King Phillippe. The ceremony was not well attended because the monument was far from the center of Paris at the time.
Napoleon had already been dead for about 20 years when his remains were passed through the completed Arc in 1840 when he was moved to his permanent resting place.
In 1920, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was placed under the Arc de Triomphe. On November 10th of that year, an eternal flame was lit to honor the fallen of the war. Today, the monument also serves as a memorial to the war dead of both World Wars.