The triumph of cars over people

The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by the Emperor Napoléon I in 1806 to celebrate the triumph of his armies over the rest of Europe in the early nineteenth century, particularly his triumph over the Russian and Austrian Empires at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805.

In recent decades, however, the Arch has merely served to demonstrate the triumph of cars over people. Cars have unlimited rights to careen around the circle that surrounds the Arch, where twelve major streets come together. People, if they want to visit the Arch, can only reach it by going through an underground tunnel like rats or moles.

Tunnel to the Arch of Triumph

When you emerge from the tunnel, the first thing you see is (you guessed it) traffic, this time from inside the circle instead of outside.

View from the Arch of Triumph, ground level

To get to the top you have to walk up the usual winding staircase, but it’s easier than most because there are two staircases, one for going up and one for going down, so the ascenders and the descenders don’t keep blocking each other’s way.

There is an elevator, aka lift, which was out of order when I was there. I’m told it is usually out of order except when they do special tours for disabled people, in which case it miraculously starts working again. (Perhaps someone who has had experience with this can say more?) In any case, the elevator only goes up to the next-to-highest level, where the souvenir shop is, not directly up to the top.

Ten lanes of cars on the Champs-Élysées, my photo from 2012

When you do get to the top, you have views of the twelve avenues that radiate out from the arch in all directions. The best known of these is the Avenue des Champs-Élysées with — for many decades — its disgusting ten lanes of cars. The outer two lanes have recently been changed into bicycle lanes, and further changes are in the works, much to the chagrin of car fetishists and conservative politicians.

My photos in this post are from 2011 and 2012. I revised the text in 2017 and 2022.

See also: Views from the Arch of Triumph and It used to be even worse.

7 thoughts on “The triumph of cars over people”

  1. In 2010, after a lot of asking around and with really tired feet, we finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe! It was late evening and it was tempting to stay back and wait for the avenue to light up. Not much traffic in the evening, I guess. I didn’t know it was possible to get a bird’s eye view from the top. 🙂 Great shots of the view below!

  2. Toller Artikel. Ich hatte letztes Jahr keine Lust, auf den Arc zu steigen. Jetzt bereue ich das ein wenig.
    Beste Grüße
    Ulrike

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