Saturday, February 18, 2006

Napoleon's Grande Arc

Rain sweeps past the Eiffel Tower

In all my previous visits to Paris, I'd never been to the Arc de Triomphe - so we took care of that today. A quick rattle along le Metro to Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile and we popped up at the imposing archway, looming over the traffic. Begun by Napoleon in 1806, it wasn't finished until 1836, and stands as a monument to France's armies. The traffic around the base is something to be seen, but thankfully an underpass spirits you to the base of the Arch without the need to risk your life above ground. The underside of the Arc is elegantly carved with the names of 660 Generals and various battles in which they distinguished themselves. Also underneath is an eternal flame to commemorate an unkown soldier from the Great War.

For €8, you can climb almost 300 steps to the top, which has a small museum to Napoleon and the campaigns of his time. Maps and plans of the Battle of Austerlitz line the walls, together with reproductions of the big man's battle tent and living quarters while he was overseeing his armies in action. He didn't half do things in style. A few more steps brings you blinking onto the roof, with stunning views all over Paris. In some respects, it's better than the view from the Eiffel Tower (as you can't see the Tower when you're up it).

Radiating off in all directions are imposingly straight roads, lined with tiny people rushing about, and clogged with cars and buses. In the distance the slight rise of Montmartre is given away by the pinnacle of the Sacre Coeur rising over the buildings. In the other direction are the tower blocks of the business district with the enormous square of la Defense sticking up like the other goal on a giant football pitch. The views are fantastic, especially looking down at the madcap traffic, as vehicles funnel into and out of the Place d'Etoile like blood cells shooting through veins.

We stayed up there for about half an hour, watching a storm cloud run over the East of the city. Eventually the rain reached us and arrived almost horizontally, whipped in by the strong wind. Taking cover behind one of the walls at the top, there was just time for another photo of the Eiffel Tower before we dashed down for the dryness of the interior and the long trek down the steps to ground level.