The Arc de Triomphe is a grand landmark of Paris.
It was erected to mark one of Napoleon's victories, but over time has added shrines and plaques to commemorate the contribution of France's citizens to various wars and battles. For countries that once had colonies, such memorials are often difficult, marking, as they do, the loss of life in fighting to maintain an untenable domination. It's also interesting to note that the war in Algeria - still an uncomfortable topic in France - is not commemorated.
It's interesting to visit, but the Champs Elysees that leads up to the Arc de Triomphe is looking increasingly tacky. The grand French brand shops are still represented, but they're cheek by jowl with junky souvenir shops, McDonalds, cinema multiplexes and boring shopping malls that serve the needs of the innumerable tourists who visit the area.
But look what you see when you look west, away from the Champs Elysees (apart from thousands of cars)
The square arch you can see in the distance is the Grande Arche of La Defense, built on an axis with the Arc de Triomphe. It is located right on the periphery of Paris and is part of ex-President Mitterand's grand 1980s vision of building a modern city on the edge of the historic centre. La Defense is a business centre of skyscrapers - such a contrast to the Paris of our imaginations. The Grande Arche is the centrepiece, a gleaming 110m hollow square of carrara marble that houses offices and businesses in its 'legs'.
You can take a glass lift through the hollow square up to a rooftop viewing space. So scary...
and this is what you see, looking back towards the Arc de Triomphe, which is a faint whitish square in the distance of this photograph.
Surrounding the Grande Arche is an 'art garden' with sculptures by many famous sculptors. These were two of my favourites -
poles sprouting wires that create delicate tracery above as you walk among them
and this giant but super-realistic thumb. What does it mean, if anything? That all's well? or is it 'thumbing its nose' at the world?
La Defense was really worth our visit. The modern buildings are varied and interesting, and the landscaping around them is often inspired. We visited on a weekday when it was relatively buzzy, but apparently it's rather dead at weekends and in the evenings. Many more inspired modern buildings are planned or already being constructed. I'd like to see what develops in the future.