The Arc de Triomphe towers above the traffic in the middle of place Charles-de-Gaulle, better known as l’Étoile (“star”) on account of the twelve avenues radiating out from it. The arch was started by Napoleon as a homage to the armies of France and himself, but it wasn’t actually finished until 1836 by Louis-Philippe, who dedicated it to the French army in general. The names of 660 generals and numerous French battles are engraved on the inside of the arch, and reliefs adorn the exterior: the best is François Rude’s extraordinarily dramatic Marseillaise, in which an Amazon-type figure personifying the Revolution charges forward with a sword, her face contorted in a fierce rallying cry. A quiet reminder of the less glorious side of war is the tomb of the unknown soldier placed beneath the arch and marked by an eternal flame that is stoked up every evening at 6.30pm by war veterans. Climbing the 280 steps to the top will be amply rewarded by the panoramic views; the best time to come is towards dusk on a sunny day, when the marble of the Grande Arche de la Défense sparkles in the setting sun and the Louvre is bathed in warm light.
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