Boy, do people love the triumphal arch! There is something about the doorway to nowhere that really speaks to people. The stability of the form, the strength of image, and the real estate it provides to tell a story in stone probably contribute to it’s allure. It seems to say, “We are very important! And you can’t deny it because–look!–a triumphal arch!”
Indeed, there really no stipulations on when you can put one up. There is no United Nations committee regulating the authorized use of the arch. That probably explains why just about every nation (from North Korea to Romania, from the Philippines to Russia) has honored themselves with one.
No one really knows when the doorway to nowhere took on such significance, but the best guess is the classical world (and really, does that surprise any of us?). The Romans, especially, have left us a lot triumphal arches. It looks as though they would throw up an arch to celebrate a good win at Tali.
For that reason, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Paris’ Arc de Triomphe was ordered by Napoleon (remember, that’s the guy who liked ancient Rome enough to get himself crowned Emperor so as not to be outdone by Caesar).
In 1806, Napoleon ordered Jean François Thérèse Chalgrin to design it in honor of the victories that his Grand Armee logged as it traipsed through Europe. It took a while for the thing to actually get past the foundation, which in this case was a good thing. In 1810, they constructed a full-sized wooden version of the arch as part of the celebration of Napoleon’s wedding to the Archduchess Marie Louise von Hapsburg of Austria. When Chalgrin saw his design in all its glory, he went back and made some modifications.
Napoleon didn’t triumph long enough to see the monument finished. Construction was halted in 1814 due to the rather ironic fact that France had completely capitulated in the War of 1812. The Arch went through another couple of architects and three heads of state (Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe I) before it was completed in 1836.
The arch lists the Napoleonic battles (except the ones between his escape from Elba and his ultimate–and final–defeat at Waterloo). The arch itself covers the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I. Inside, the walls list 558 generals and underlines those who died in battle. Romantic sculpture in the form of friezes as well as low and high relief tableaux can be found all over the arch.
Architectural style: Neoclassicism
Architect: Jean François Thérèse Chalgrin
Address: The arch sits at the intersection of 12 streets. It must be accessed through an underground passage found at Avenue de la Grande Armee side of the circle. You can access this tunnel from the Wagram exit of the Metro.