It was the first day of our Europe tour and we had boarded the metro at Anvers station for a sightseeing tour of Paris. Led by our local guide, Anupam Bari, a young Puneite now working in Paris, we alighted at Charles de Gaul terminal and started walking. Nearly 20 minutes later, we took an underground passage and when we had reached above the ground, we were near a huge monument. There was no need to seek introduction about this great Arc de Triomphe or the Arch of Triumph. I remembered that just a couple of years ago the Indian armed forces, including the jawans of the Maratha Light Infantry, had along with the French armed forces participated in the annual Bastille Day Military Parade here. The event was attended by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
The Arc is located at a very busy traffic intersection; 12 streets spread out from this crossing. As we moved around in that locality, we had to watch out for the vehicles that were zooming past us. So, our guide advised to opt for the underground passage. The huge structure reminded me of the India Gate in New Delhi which too symbolises the might of the Indian nation and the members of the armed forces who sacrificed their lives for the nation and civilisation.
The Arc de Triomphe too honours those who fought and died for France in the French revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I with the Eternal Flame.
Noted French sculptors have been represented in the Arc. The important works here are independent trophies. The four sculptural groups at the base of the Arc are The Triumph of 1810, the Resistance and Peace, and the Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 which is also known as La Marseillaise. It represents the allegorical face of France that is calling the citizens. In the attic above the richly sculptured frieze of soldiers are 30 shields engraved with the names of major Revolutionary and Napoleonic military victories. There are six reliefs on the facade of the Arc as well that depict the important moments in the history of France. No wonder that the Arch has now become a symbol of patriotism for the French. Standing some meters away from the monument, watching the French colours adorning the Arc, I stood speechless, wondering how many dignitaries, leaders, soldiers and commoners may have been at this wonderful monument that stands high.
The presence of thousands of tourists from various countries, races and cultures near the historical monument gives it a global feel. Just as it was in the case of Eiffel Tower where we were few hours back. The crowd at the Arc was much less than that near the Eiffel Tower. But the importance and the glory of the Arc is not diminished a bit. Rather, the importance of the structure seemed to be far greater: the crowd was much quieter, being respectful of the soldiers who have been celebrated here.
A word of caution is necessary about Paris. As in most famous tourist sites, the visitors need to be careful about their Euro and other valuables. Within a first few hours in Paris, we lost cash as we headed towards Arc. Although the amount the thief managed to steal was insignificant, nevertheless it was a lesson for us. During the remaining part of our Europe tour, never did we carry all our currency, passports and valuables in one bag.