Paris by Night: The Two Arches

Say “Parisian Arch” and most will think of the Arc de Triomphe. For good reason, too: the “Triumphal Arch” is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. The 164 foot stone structure was commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoleon after he defeated the Russo-Austrian Army at the Battle of Austerlitz (and completed three decades later). True to its origin, the Arc de Triomphe has been a pivotable symbol of France’s military might for two centuries. To this day, the French government celebrates Bastille Day every year by parading every type of vehicle it owns—from tanks and armored personel carriers to backhoes and small fire trucks.

Every other hour of the year, however, the arch hosts a more unrelenting and chaotic procession of civilian hardware unhindered by lanes or traffic signals. In fact, insurance companies refuse coverage to drivers who dare to enter this swirling mass of liability.

The Arc de Triomphe held its ground as the world’s largest triumphal arch until a larger one was built in 1982. Any guesses where it was built? Modern day world leader with a Napoleon-complex and careless disregard for misappropriating scarce resources? Yup. Kim Jong Il built one 33 feet taller in Pyongyang to commemorate his father, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea.

The Arc de Triomphe is also pivotal in the urban design of Paris, literally. It serves as the linchpin on the historic axis that connects Champs Elysées and the Louvre to the east with La Défense—and the second arch of Paristo the west.

In 1989, La Grande Arche was built as a 20th century interpretation of Arc de Triomphe. Despite towering over the aforementioned arches at 330 feet, Pyongyang’s placement in the record books holds firm; La Grande Arche emphasizes humanity instead of military might (and thus is not a “triumphal arch”).
It serves as a government office building.

La Grand Arche is the architectural highlight of a business district built in the 1980’s to compete with London and Switzerland. Actually, this district was originally slated within historic Paris, but once the first high-rise was built (Montparnasse), the French cursed the ghastly addition to their cherished skyline, mandated that no future construction could challenge the height of the Eiffel Tower, and built La Défense to the northwest of the city, at the terminus of the “historic axis”.

I took an evening in late January to photograph both arches, starting with La Grande Arche at sunset, and ending with the Arc de Triomphe later that evening. They are only two metro stops away from one another. Unfortunately, most of the clouds cleared before they could be illuminated by the setting sun.


La Grande Arche, La Défense







High rises of the La Défense business district.





The unusual art installation at the base of the arch.


View from the steps of the La Grand Arche.


A carousel spins near a metal art installation. La Grand Arche looms in the background.


A woman stands in front of a spinning carousel.



Looking southeast on the historic axis towards Arc de Triomphe.



L’Arc de Triomphe

Jump on the Metro Line 1 and in 10 minutes, you will arrive at the Charles de Gaule station, directly underneath the Arc de Triomphe.


Le Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower in the background.



The blue flashing lights of a police van convoy pass the arch.