Arc de Triomphe: site of joy, pride and tear gas

Paris (AFP) –


The image of the Arc de Triomphe, which pays homage to France's war dead, has appeared on television screens across the world through a cloud of tear gas, as violent protests erupted in Paris.

Here are some facts about the landmark, one of the French capital's most recognisable, that has often been the site of demonstrations, celebrations and commemorations.

- Napoleon's orders -

The Arc is located in the 8th arrondissement in Paris on the Place de l'Etoile, at the top end of the famed Champs-Elysees avenue, lined today with high-end shops and restaurants.

Building began in 1806 under orders from Napoleon. Architects took inspiration from the Roman Arch of Titus. The final design is attributed to Jean Chalgrin.

It was inaugurated in 1836 by the French king, Louis Philippe I, who dedicated it to the armies of the Revolution and Empire.

The monument dominates the historic avenue leading to the La Defense financial district in the west and the Louvre museum in the east.

It is considered the biggest arch in the world, according to the monument's website, at a height of 55 metres (180 feet), 45 metres wide and 22 metres deep.

It has a terrace, where for a fee visitors can take in the panoramic views of Paris -- the adventurous can attempt the 284-step climb although there is a lift.

- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -

This tomb is situated beneath the Arc as a symbol of the 1.4 million French fighters who died in the First World War.

"Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914–1918," reads the slab above the tomb.

A flame burns at the tomb that was first lit on November 11, 1923 by Andre Maginot, the war minister, to the sound of Chopin's Funeral March.

- Revelry to rioting -

In recent months the Arc de Triomphe has appeared in newspapers and on television screens worldwide, providing the backdrop to scenes of jubilation, mourning and rage.

On July 16 a bus carrying the French football team proudly paraded along the Champs-Elysees in front of hundreds of thousands of people who had come to cheer football's new World Cup champions.

As in 1998 when France also won the tournament, the faces of the 23 winning players, their names and the names of their birth towns were projected onto the Arc the day before the victory parade.

On a more sombre note, on November 11, around 70 world leaders gathered for a ceremony under the Arc to mark 100 years since the end of World War I.

Three bare-breasted protesters from the feminist activist group Femen were also arrested trying to reach the motorcade of US President Donald Trump as he made his way up the Champs-Elysees.

Violent protest around the monument have dominated the news in recent weeks, in unrest during so-called "yellow vest" anti-government rallies sparked initially by a rise in taxes on diesel.

Anarchist and far-right groups have infiltrated the movement and are thought to be behind Saturday's clashes.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday visited the monument and other scenes of unrest where he paid tribute to the police but was also booed by sections of the crowd.

One slogan daubed on the Arc de Triomphe graffiti said: "The yellow vests will win."