The Unknown Soldier and Eternal Flame at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Even though the Arc de Triomphe had already been standing as a monument in Paris dedicated to soldiers and different victories since it was first inaugurated in 1836, it was not until after World War I that things took on an additional reminder of those who fought for France.
The Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe
It all started in 1916 during World War I, when the idea of honouring one soldier to symbolise all of those that died in battle fighting for their country came about through discussions by the Senate and the deputies of France.
And it was shortly after the Armistice on the 11th November 1918 that these dignitaries voted to bring the remains of an unidentified soldier from the front line to the Pantheon in Paris. However, there was a lot of opposition to this idea, even though The Pantheon had become a famous burial place, and many of the war veterans associations wanted this symbolic gesture to be honoured at the Arc de Triomphe instead of at the Pantheon.
So, after more discussions, it was then unanimously decided that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier would be buried underneath this impressive and revered monument in Paris, that meant so much to the people of France in honouring those who had fought for their country over the years.
But getting back to the Pantheon initially.. It was on the 11th November 1920 that there was a ceremony conducted for Leon Gambetta, who was a French republican statesman, who had helped direct the defence of France during the Franco-German War of 1870 to 1871.
And this ceremony was to bring his heart to the Pantheon where it would be laid to rest with other famous people, in order to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Third republic for which Leon Gambetta played a major role in founding.
Yet continuing on from this ceremony at The Pantheon in November 1920, the remains of the Unknown Soldier were then carried from this famous burial place to the Arc de Triomphe in a solemn procession where the coffin was placed in the chapel on the first floor of the Triumphal Arch.
Then in the January of 1921, there was a ceremony conducted at the Arc de Triomphe with many dignitaries, including the whole of the French government and the British Prime Minister present, to witness the burial of The Unknown Soldier. And it was at this time, he was decorated with the Legion d’Honneur, which is the highest medal or decoration that can be given in France.
The Eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe
Now, most people have heard about the Eternal Flame that is also located beneath the Arc de Triomphe and it was the journalist and poet, Gabriel Boissy, who initially came up with the idea of the eternal flame, which was supported by the public and many ministers including Andre Maginot.
The torch for the eternal flame was designed by Henri Favier and a wrought iron craftsman by the name of Edgar Brandt was selected to make it. And in another ceremony attended by the French Government, dignitaries and numerous war veterans, this Flame of Remembrance was first lit on 11th November 1923 by Andre Maginot, who was the war minister of France at that time.
The eternal flame, literally is eternal as it is never put out, and it is rekindled every day at 6.30pm by one of the many Veterans Associations of France and this even happened during the occupation in World War II. But after the Liberation of Paris in the August of 1944, there was a wreath laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before the victory parade down the Champs Elysees, and hence the next chapter in the history of the Arc de Triomphe goes on. Now, every year this monument in Paris is at the focal point of certain celebrations such as Remembrance Day events and Bastille Day and still has the daily ritual of rekindling the flame.
Of course, over the years there have been millions of people visit this when on holiday in Paris in the Ile de France region. Yet alone the dignitaries and famous people that have also been to the Arc de Triomphe to pay tribute to The Unknown Soldier and those who lost their lives fighting for France.
In fact, talking of famous people, in 1961 President John F Kennedy and the First Lady were accompanied by the French President Charles de Gaulle, when they paid their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de triomphe.
And Jacqueline Kennedy never forgot about her trip to France, so after her husband was assassinated in 1963, she decided that she wanted an eternal flame next to President Kennedy’s grave and Charles de Gaulle went to America to witness the State funeral, along with witnessing Jacqueline lighting the eternal flame that was inspired by her holiday in Paris.
But there is more to this monument in Paris than just the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal Flame, as there is a rich history of the Arc de triomphe to discover as well.