There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Four Arcs de Triomphe (none of them in Paris)

Having encountered several Arcs de Triomphe recently I decided to collect them together in one post.

They all owe a clear debt to the Parisian Arc, but that was not, as I have learned, the original. Like so much in Europe, Triumphal Arches are a Roman idea.

We visited Libya in 2006, the home of two well preserved/restored Roman arches. The Arch of Marcus Aurelius in Tripoli was built in 165AD to commemorate the victory of his adopted brother, Lucius Verus, over the Parthians. It seems a thin excuse for building an arch so far away from the events, but perhaps Marcus felt in need of a monument. 
The Arch of Marcus Aurelius, Tripoli
The ruins of Leptis Magna lie 130km to the East. Septimius Severus, Rome’s only African emperor, was born here in 145AD. He became emperor in 193 and ruled until he fell ill attempting to conquer Caledonia and died in York in 211. He is honoured by an arch in Rome commemorating his victory over the Parthians (it seems Lucius Verus did not finish them off) and this one in his home town.

The Arch of Septimius Severus, Leptis Magna
After the Romans triumphal arches went out of fashion until the days of Napoleon, who rather fancied himself as a latter day Roman emperor. The remarkably camp statue below is in Bastia the capital of northern Corsica. Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, the capital of southern Corsica – is it possible that Bastia was taking the mickey out of their rival’s favourite son?
Napoleon in a toga, Bastia

Planning the Paris Arc de Triomphe started in 1806 but it was not completed until 1836 by which time some of the shine had come off Napoleon’s triumphs. That did not deter the Parisians, nor indeed many others, as where Paris led the rest followed. St Petersburg has one (1829), as do New York (1892) and Mexico City (1938). London hopped on the bandwagon early - the Wellington Arch in Green Park dates from 1826 - though before I began researching triumphal arches I had never heard of it.

The better known Marble Arch was intended to be a gate to Buckingham Palace, but the distinction between Triumphal Arches and Triumphal Gates is blurry. Of my four Arcs, one was a gate and another is a war memorial.

Patouxai, Vientiane. 1st March 2014 (for full story click here)

Appropriately my first Arc de Triomphe was built to commemorate a triumph over the French. Laos gained its independence in 1954 after the first Indo-China War and Patouxi (Victory Arch) was built in the late 1950s. Less reverently it is known as ‘The Vertical Runway’ as there is a story that it was built from concrete donated by the Americans for airport construction.

Patouxi (Victory Arch), Vientiane
There are stairs inside and shops at three levels. From the top there is a good view over the gardens below one way and down Lan Xang Avenue – Vientiane’s Champs Elysées the other.

The Arch of Triumph, Pyongyang.  9th September 2013 (for full story click here)

North Korea’s Arch of Triumph, in Triumphant Return Square, commemorates Kim Il Sung's return to the capital (in 1948) and his founding of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea  after almost single-handedly driving the Japanese colonialists from his country (DPRK history avoids mentioning the global conflict and ignores contributions made by other combatants, including the Chinese, British and the hated Americans).

It was built in 1982 to celebrate his 70th birthday and is the most blatant rip off of the French ‘original’. Two interesting details are that a) it is 10m taller than the Parisian Arc and b) that fact was the first thing we were told when we arrived in the square. Delusions of grandeur and a chip on the shoulder are the most obvious attributes of Kim Il Sung and the dynasty he founded.
Arch of Triumph, Pyongyang
Pyongyang’s sparse traffic means that it is perfectly safe to stand in the middle of the ‘Champs Elysées’ to take a photograph.

The India Gate, New Delhi. 16th February 2013 (for full story click here)

At the start of the 20th century Edwin Lutyens had the rare privilege of designing a capital city from scratch. He modelled the ceremonial Kingsway, leading to the Viceroy’s palace through the administrative heart of New Delhi, on The Mall, but with a distinct nod to the Champs Elysées.

The India Gate, New Delhi
In 1921 he was commissioned to build a memorial to the 90 000 Indian soldiers who died fighting for the Empire in the First World War. The result was the India Gate, placed at the opposite end of the Kingsway from the viceroy’s palace. If the Kingsway (now the Rajpath) nods towards the Champs Elysées, the India Gate (now the National War Memorial) bows deeply towards the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Tromf, Barcelona. 29th March 2008

A whimsical piece of modernista architecture with Islamic-style brickwork, Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf was designed by Josep Vilaseca and built in 1888 as the entrance to the Barcelona World Fair.

Arc de Triomf, Barcelona
The arch represents no military triumph, real or imagined, and the sculpture on the front frieze is called Barcelona rep les nacions (Barcelona welcomes the nations). It is an altogether much healthier expression of national (in this case Catalan) pride than any of the other Arches de Triomphe above, and that makes it my clear favourite.