A view from the central path of the Tuileries Garden towards the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris’s Axe Historique – From the Louvre to La Défense

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If you’re looking for something different to do in Paris and would like to gain insight into the history of Paris, then exploring the Axe Historique, fits the bill perfectly. The Champs Elysées, which runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe, is the oldest part of the Axe Historique, also known as the Voie Triomphale (triumphal way)  an axis of roads and monuments that runs from the centre of Paris out beyond the city to the west.

With so much to see and do in the French capital of Paris. I’d start planning my Paris trip by thinking about my sightseeing itinerary. Having some ideas about what I’d like to see in Paris would allow me to decide in which area I wished to stay e.g. close to the route of the Axe Historique. While the Paris Metro is usually very efficient and reasonably priced, I’d prefer to stay in a hotel that’s not too far from the attractions that I wished to visit. Once I’d checked out hotel prices and availability, I’d book my flights to Paris. The city’s Charles de Gaulle Airport is served by a wide selection of airlines including Emirates, easyJet and Air France, which means that there are daily flights from most destinations to Paris. Once my flight was arranged, I’d book my hotel in Paris and then firm up my daily schedules.

Looking from the Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe.
Looking up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, with the tip of the Luxor Obelisk pointing the way. © Palagret

Exploring the Axe Historique

Walking along the Champs Elysées it is very difficult not to notice this alignment of monuments, which was first conceptualised in the 17th century, and has been repeatedly added to and extended ever since.. When going up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, and looking back at the Louvre, the glass pyramids of the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the central path of the Tuileries Gardens, the Luxor obelisk on Place de la Concorde are all but perfectly aligned with the Arc de Triomphe. Standing on the high point on which the Arc de Triomphe is situated and looking in the opposite direction of the Louvre, one can see that that Axe Historique continues on beyond the boundary of the city of Paris out to the business district known as La Défense with its modern Grande Arche.

A view from the central path of the Tuileries Garden towards the Arc de Triomphe.
A few of the monuments along the ‘axe historique’ from the Tuileries Gardens. © Ximeg

The Champs Elysées was created in the 1600s as an extension of the central pathway in the gardens of the royal Palace of the Tuileries. Although the palace is no longer standing (it was destroyed in 1871), the Tuileries Gardens and its pathway have been retained. On the place de la Concorde, that crazy looking round-about between at the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs Elysées, is the red granite obelisk from Luxor. Erected on the axe historique on Place de la Concorde in October of 1833, this ancient Egyptian artefact was a gift from Egypt to France.

The Louvre behind the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
Looking through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel towards the Louvre, and the one end of the axe historique’. © Thomas Dowson

Constructed between the Louvre and Tuileries Palaces between 1806 and 1808, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel commemorates Napoleon’s military victories of 1807. Today the arch has a statue that was installed in 1828, which represents Peace riding a triumphal chariot that was created to celebrate the restoration of the Bourbons after the downfall of Napoleon. This Quadriga replaced a much more the famous quadriga from Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice – looted by Napoleon when he captured the Italian city in 1798. Following Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the return of the Bourbons to the French Monarchy, France immediately gave the Venetian quadriga back.

Looking to the east, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is aligned with the statue of Louis XIV on a horse placed in the Napoleon courtyard of the Louvre. And on a clear day, visitors to Paris get a clear view from this arch up the axis to the Luxor Obelisk and the larger Arc de Triomphe at the other end of the Champs Elysées.

The axe historique through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
The Luxor Obelisk and Arc de Triomphe viewed through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. © Simdaperce

Looking towards the Grande Arche in La Defense.
The Avenue de la Grande Armée from the Arc de Triomphe looking out beyond the city boundary to the Grande Arche in La Défense. © Hadouin

From beyond the Arc de Triomphe the axis is made up of the Avenue de la Grande Armée, so named in 1864 to honour French military who fought the Napoleonic Wars, and the Avenue Charles-de-Gaulle. Here the axis extends from the centre of Paris out towards the business district of La Défense, and the most recent monument to be added to the axe historiquela Grande Arche. The brainchild President Mitterrand, and designed by the Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen, this modern interpretation of the Arc de Triomphe was inaugurated in 1989 during the bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution. Today the Grande Arche houses various government offices, unfortunately the viewing gallery and restaurant has been closed to the public.

Looking towards the Arc de Triomphe from the Grande Arche in La Defense.
A view east from the Grande Arche in La Défense towards the Arc de Triomphe. © ZacharyS

So what might at first seem to be nothing more than random accumulation of monuments along a straight road (they do exist!) through Paris, is in fact a very significant focus for the commemoration of cultural and historical events in the story of the capital city. Over the years, successive French leaders have added monuments to the axis, at various political junctures in France’s history. And this shows no sign of having ended. There are now plans to extend the axis further west through the city of Nanterre.

I’m sure that you could spend weeks exploring Paris;here are our tips for things to do in Paris.

 

 

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.