vendredi 23 février 2007

The triumphant sight

It is a neglected monument by the French, but it offers one of the most beautiful outlook of Paris. For the Parisians, it is above all famous as one of the most dangerous places to drive, and certainly the most dangerous crossroad of France.

With a 50-meter height, the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower’s first floor, the Arc de Triomphe presents a unique perspective, as it is in the perfect line that goes from the Grande Arche de la Défense to the Concorde obelisk to the Pyramide du Louvre.

The Arc de Triomphe is the most popular national monument visited in France, according to Pascal Monnet, the civil servant who is in charge of it at the Monuments Nationaux Agency. This is a public institution that rules around one hundred monuments in France, including the Pantheon, the Holy Chapel in Paris or the Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy and many castles in southern France. The Arc de triomphe received 1,200 million visitors in 2006. In the top ten of the most visited monuments in Paris, it arrives at the tenth position[1]. Which is quite honest, as it is rather expensive (8 euros) and there is nothing to see except the view. By night, the Arc is open until 10.30 pm in winter and 11 pm in summer, when visitors are more numerous, as 300,000 people per day wander on the Champs-Elysées, a majority during the evening. The view of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe by night is always worth a visit.

“85 % of visitors are foreigners. Many French even do not know that they can visit the Arc de Triomphe. It is more acknowledged for its traffic-jams. We have more and more tourists who come from Brazil, China, India and Russia. They come here for the outlook, not for military or historical tourism.”, declares Pascal Monnet This is what Robert and his wife Julia come for. Both Americans, they are in Paris for ten days, and the visit of the Arc de Triomphe is recommended in their guide. “Look, it is just wonderful. The Grande Arche de la Défense on one side, the Louvre in the other. And all those cars underneath, they look like so tiny. That’s fun!”

But the Arc de Triomphe was historically a monument dedicated to the Revolution and Empire wars. In 1806, Napoleon ordered to erect an Arc de Triomphe to be built on the “Place de l’Étoile”. In 1814, after the defeat of the napoleonian army and a new political system, the construction stopped. The work started again in 1823 and the monument was finally inaugurated in 1836. It walls are covered with the names of 128 battles and 660 army generals.

“Today, it is a place for memory, patriotic and hommage” says Pascal Monnet. Underneath stands the grave of the unknown soldier. He was buried in 1921 and the grave pays tribute to all the anonymous soldiers died for the country in the first world war. Since the 11th of November 1923, the memory flame is relighted everyday at 18.30. It has never been put out since. The place is so sacred that it is guarded by two policemen twenty-four hours a day. And every year, on the 11th of November and the 8th of May, a national ceremony is celebrated attended by the President of the Republic and government members.

Hell for the Parisian driver, the Arc de Triomphe makes the happiness of the tourist.

[1] The first five are: the Cathedral Notre-Dame, Disneyland Paris Resort, the Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, Louvre museum and the Eiffel Tower

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