Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paris Monuments - Arc de Triomphe

I'm in New York City at present, staying with my BFF and her Hero Husband in their historic Harlem brownstone. They put me and the Uber-Mensch up in the top floor bedroom facing the street. Why? They thought we'd feel right at home surrounded by wall decorations of Paris scenes, including a painting of the Arc de Triomphe.

The Arc de Triomphe, or Triumphal Arch, stands at the center of Paris' famous Place de l'Étoile (or Étoile Charles de Gaulle), a star-shaped traffic circle joining 12 avenues at the western end of the of the Champs-Élysées. It honors the many souls who have fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.

Emperor Napoleon I commissioned the triumphal arch in 1806 after his victory at Austerlitz. Though work to lay the foundations began at the peak of his fortunes, Napoleon would not see his beloved arch realized before his demise in 1814-1815. It was only completed in 1833-36, during the reign of King Louis-Philippe. Napoleon's body did pass through the arch, however, in 1840, on his return trip from St. Helena - where he died - en route to his final resting place under the dome of the chapel at Les Invalides.

Designed by architect Jean Chalgrin, the Arc de Triomphe recalls the Roman Arch of Titus. The Paris arch is so colossal in proportions, that Charles Godefroy was able to fly his Nieuport biplane through it in a 1919 victory parade to mark the end of World War I.

The Arc reads like an encyclopedia of 18th & 19th century French wars and generals and gives pride of place to a WWI tomb of the unknown soldier. Visitors can climb the monument's 284 steps (or take the lift, if it's working, plus 46 steps) to reach the top and one of the most spectacular panoramic views of Paris. There, it's easy to see the city's L'Axe historique (historic axis) which draws a direct line from the Louvre Palace up the Champs-Élysées through the Arc de Triomphe to its modern counterpart at La Defense, the high-rise business district in Paris' north-western outskirts.

There are many replicas of the Arc de Triomphe throughout the world. One of them, right here in my hometown of Brooklyn, NY, commemorates the victory of the Union Army in the American Civil War (1861-65). The cornerstone of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, designed by John H. Duncan,was laid on October 10, 1889, by General William Tecumseh Sherman himself. Three years later, in 1892, President Grover Cleveland helped unveil the monument which stands in the middle of Grand Army Plaza and serves as a gateway to Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

Both Arch and Park are well worth a visit on your next trip to New York, as are the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum, located within Prospect Park and just steps from Grand Army Plaza. Take a break for lunch at the ever-popular Tom's Restaurant on Washington Avenue (closed Sunday). Then hop on the 2 or 3 subway line to Clark Street and walk to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Photo of Paris' Arc de Triomphe at night by Benh LIEU SONG, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Brooklyn's Soldiers and Sailors Monument by Jeffrey O. Gustafson, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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