'Really alive': France unveils wrapped Arc de Triomphe

Paris (AFP) –

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President Emmanuel Macron was set to unveil a strange and spectacular sight in Paris on Thursday: the entire 50-metre-high Arc de Triomphe wrapped in fabric, fulfilling the long-held dream of late artist Christo.

After weeks of preparation, the finishing touches are being put to the transformation of one of France's most iconic monuments ahead of its opening to the public this weekend.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot called it "a posthumous testament to an artistic genius" and "a wonderful gift to Parisians, to the French, and to all art-lovers."

The imposing war memorial has been wrapped in 25,000 square metres (270,000 square feet) of silver-blue recyclable polypropylene.

It is the signature of Christo, the Bulgarian-born artist who died last year, who had dreamt of sheathing the monument since renting a nearby apartment in the 1960s.

Despite completing other major public works during his lifetime, including wrapping the oldest bridge in Paris in 1985 and the German parliament in 1995, the Arc de Triomphe project never materialised before his death.

The completion of his vision -- and that of his co-designer and wife Jeanne-Claude -- has been overseen by his nephew Vladimir Javacheff in coordination with the Pompidou museum and French authorities.

"Christo always said the hardest part is getting the permissions," Javacheff told reporters with a smile.

"When you realise that this is really alive, for me and for my team, when you realise this fragility, this beauty, it is quite amazing."

Christo left meticulous plans and drawings for fulfilling the work before his death in 2020
Christo left meticulous plans and drawings for fulfilling the work before his death in 2020 GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT AFP

Protective barriers will be removed on Saturday, allowing the public to get up close to the transformed monument.

The wrapping will then stay in place until October 3.

- 'A living object' -

Not everyone has welcomed the project.

Architect Carlo Ratti, a friend of Christo, wrote last week that it was wrong to waste so much fabric at a time when the fashion industry was responsible for such high levels of carbon emissions.

Javacheff countered that the entire fabric is recyclable, along with half the metal used for scaffolding.

The wrapping will stay in place until October 3
The wrapping will stay in place until October 3 GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT AFP

For Christo, who left sketches and photo montages of his plans, the vision was that the Arc would become "like a living object stimulated by the wind and reflecting the light".

The monument, which was built by Napoleon to commemorate fallen soldiers during his military campaigns, has recently been restored after being defaced by anti-government "yellow vest" protesters in December 2018.

He died of natural causes at his home in New York in May last year.