|Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
Built on a Napoleonic scale, Paris's Arc de Triomphe is testament to France's greatness, but has also witnessed some of Paris's saddest moments.
Napoleon's Big Idea
The huge arch was commissioned by Napoleon in honor of his Grande Armée and its 128 victorious battles (1805-1809).
Napoleon's ideas were a lot bigger than he was, however. Commissioned in 1806, the arch was far from complete by the time France's conquest machine came to a grinding halt at the Battle of Waterloo (1815).
Finally completed in 1836, the Arc de Triomphe was rededicated to honor all French warriors. France's victories in two world wars were celebrated here, but German armies marched through the arch and down the Champs-Élysées after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and the blitzkrieg of 1940.
Beneath the arch burns an eternal flame for France's Unknown Soldier, and a gigantic tricolor flag usually hangs from the arch. At night, with floodlights bathing the great monument in soft light, you can truly feel that the arch embodies some of the greatness of French civilization.
How to Go to the Top
After you've gazed at it from the periphery of the vast Place Charles de Gaulle, use the underground passages to reach the arch at the center of the busy traffic circle. Buy your ticket, then climb the 284 stairs to the top, 50 meters (164 feet) above the paving stones.
(There is an elevator/lift, but only for handicapped and mobility-impaired visitors.)
Before you reach the top terrace on the Arc de Triomphe, you'll pass through large rooms with exhibits detailing the history of the arch. There are single-user toilets here, one seat for men and one for women, and usually long lines to use these very limited facilities.
Photography on Top
Visit on a sunny day if possible. Morning is the best time to get good photos of the Eiffel Tower, which is due south of the Arc de Tromphe. The east and part of the north side of the tower will be sunlit then. Dusk, when the lights are coming on all over Paris, is also a good time for photos in general.
At the top on the terrace, look southeast down the avenue des Champs-Élysées to see the Place de la Concorde in the distance, and just beyond it the Jardins des Tuileries, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and the palais du Louvre.
Look northwest to see the Grande Arche de la Défense, a 300,000-ton open cube which houses an office complex. This gargantuan monument is 110 meters (360 feet) high and almost as wide; the entire Cathedral of Notre Dame could fit beneath the arch.
There are lots of other good places to see panoramas of Paris.