Bible History Guide to Rome
Rome may not be the first place you think of when it comes to the sites of history from the bible. The Romans were renowned for being harsh and strong rulers and they made their way into bible history when they occupied territories such as Israel. The gospels share snippets about the Roman oppression of the Jewish people and later some of the apostles make their way to Rome as missionaries.
Interestingly, Rome today is an epicentre for Catholicism with the Vatican City located here. There is a fascinating history from the first century AD, which involved the likes of Peter and Paul, apostles and missionaries who gave their lives for an empire that persecuted them. But as history reveals, it took a mere 300 years before the majority of the nation would identify themselves as Christian – a far cry from their days of executing those that believed in Christ. The first Christian emperor of Rome arose in the year 306 AD with Constantine the Great.
Here are some sights worth visiting in Rome that help shaped the history of Christianity.
St Peter’s Square
The Square is located directly in front of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. It seems almost sacrilegious that the very place where the Romans executed Christians for their faith is now a type of epicentre for Christianity! The Clementine Chapel under St. Peter’s Basilica is considered the place where Peter was crucified upside down at his own request, for he considered himself unworthy to die in the same way as Jesus.
Most people probably have no idea what ties the Colosseum in Rome to Christianity! But it’s quite an interesting story. In 70AD under the leadership of Titus, the Romans sieged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and looted all the riches from the temple – mass amounts of ornaments and furnishings made out of gold and other expensive materials. The spoils were carried off to Rome and were recycled for other uses. A couple of years later in 72AD, the construction of the Colosseum began and it was opened in 80AD. When we visited the Colosseum in Rome we found out that the loot from the temple was effectively what funded the construction of this ground-breaking stadium! This really puts into perspective the amount of riches that were stolen. On one of the Colosseum’s ground-floor inner entrances, there is a partially preserved fresco of the city of Jerusalem, entitled ‘View of Jerusalem’. It commemorates the city of Jerusalem as an ideal view, facing east. Part of the fresco includes scenes of the Israelites defeating the Philistines, Jesus’ crucifixion at Golgotha, and a depiction of the resurrection.
The Arc de Triomphe’s Evolving History: Then and Now
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (the Triumphal Arch of the Star) is one of Paris’ most famous landmarks. It commemorates those who fought and died for France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It also contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which honours those who died for France in World War I and World War II.
Below is a view of the Arc de Triomphe from across the street. There is an underground tunnel that pedestrians use to gain access to it. (You can’t fit the entire monument in one frame if you are standing on the inside of the traffic roundabout, so unfortunately we’re stuck with the picture below that contains vehicles).
The Arc is located at the centre of a large junction, the Place Charles de Gaulle, that contains twelve avenues. These wide, straight avenues radiate out from the Arc, like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The Arc and its surrounding plaza intersect with the 8th, 16th, and 17th arrondissements.
Below is an aerial view looking south-east that shows the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of a star-shaped intersection, with each of the 12 avenues acting as a point in that star. The intersection was originally shaped in this manner in 1777¹, at which point it was named the “Place d’Étoile.” The plaza and the avenues were broadened and modernized during Haussmann’s renovation of Paris (1853-1870). It was renamed the “Place Charles de Gaulle” in 1970 to honour the French General and President, who passed away that same year.
A view of the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel Tower.
One of these 12 avenues is the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which contains a series of high-end stores, cafés, and theatres. In the photo above, it is the (widest) street that extends from the Arc de Triomphe towards the top of the picture. Below, back on the ground, is a view of the Arc de Triomphe where it meets the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The avenue is 1.9 km (1.2 miles) long and runs from the Place Charles de Gaulle to the Place de la Concorde. The avenue is the route for the Bastille Day military parade, and also serves as the finish for the Tour de France.
In the image below, note how the monument is positioned at an angle. The Avenue de Champs-Élysées extends from the bottom right/south-east side of the monument. The Avenue de la Grande-Armée extends from the top left/north-west side.
The Arc de Triomphe is a central point located along the Axe Historique, a long thoroughfare that begins at the Louvre and runs for 8.5 km before ending at another arch, the Grand Arche de la Défense. The Axe Historique, and the series of monuments and buildings that are included along its route, is interesting enough that it could fill its own post. For now, I’m going to keep it simple. In the map below, the Louvre is indicated by the yellow pin on the bottom right. The Arc de Triomphe is the centre red pin. The Grand Arche de la Défense is indicated by the navy blue pin at the top left.
Below is a picture I took of the Grand Arche de la Défense while standing at the Arc de Triomphe, 4 kms away. It is located in Paris’ financial district, and was designed to be a 20th century reimagining of the Arc de Triomphe. Rather than an arch, it is actually a cube-shape. It was built in 1989 as a monument to humanitarian ideals rather than military victories.
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon I in 1806 following his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. At this battle, which took place on December 2, 1805, Napoleon and the French army defeated the Russian and Austrian armies (led by Emperor Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, respectively)¹. Napoleon wanted to build several monuments² that would honour the military leaders and victories of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1804), the French Consulate (1799-1804), and the First French Empire (Napoleon’s reign from 1804-1814, 1815). The Arc was designed by Jean Chalgrin, and it was inspired by the Arch of Titus³ in Rome, Italy. The first stone was laid on Napoleon’s birthday on August 15, 1806. The arch would take 30 years to complete due in small part to the immensity of the task (work on the foundations alone took two), but in greater part to Napoleon’s changing fortunes. In 1810, the arch was still incomplete, but Napoleon had a gesture to make. He had a full-sized wooden replica built on the site so that he could make a triumphant march under it and into Paris with his new bride (and second wife), Marie Louise of Austria. Work stopped completely on the Arc in 1814 with Napoleon’s forced abdication and the consequent Bourbon Restoration (1814-1815 1815-1830). Construction was later completed from 1833-1836 under the reign of Louis-Philippe I.
Entry into Paris of the Emperor and the Empress, day of the ceremony of their marriage. Charles-Pierre Joseph Normand (engraver) Charles Percier (designer) Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (designer) around 1942. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
An up-close view of the Arc de Triomphe. (This is the most I could fit in one frame while on the inside of the traffic roundabout).
Let’s examine the features of the Arc de Triomphe in detail. There are many sculptural and bas-reliefs found on the Arc, all of them done by renowned French sculptors. The sculptures are treated as individual trophies applied to the Arc to commemorate specific military achievements****. There’s a lot of them, so bear with me as I take you on a journey through French military history of the late 18th-early 19th century. We’ll review: the two main exterior faces of the Arc (the south-east and the north-west) and the four large sculptural reliefs that can be found on them six smaller bas-relief sculpted scenes that depict five major French victories and one military funeral (found on the two main exterior façades as well as the two minor façades that face south-west and north-east) other exterior work as well as the interior of the monument (which features one main arch and two smaller ones).
The south-east exterior façade of the Arc de Triomphe is the most recognizable because it faces the Avenue de Champs-Élysees. Many prominent pictures have been taken from this side of the monument. It contains two of four large sculptural reliefs: Le Triomphe de 1810 is located on the left (south) pillar, Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise is located on the right (east) pillar. I’m going to examine these sculptural reliefs in greater detail, but first I’ll focus on the details that make up the top portion of the Arc.
We’ll examine the sculpted work located at the apex of the main arch from left to right, and then conclude with the long frieze that extends across the width of the entire façade overhead.
At the far left, on the south pillar is a bas-relief of a battle scene: La bataille d’Aboukir (the Battle of Aboukir), by sculptor Bernard Seurre. This battle took place on July 25, 1799 and was part of Napoleon’s Egypt-Syria campaign during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French defeated the Ottoman army (led by Seid Mustafa Pasha), and (temporarily) secured France’s control over Egypt. Napoleon’s victories as a Commander in the French Revolutionary Wars earned him a lot of respect, and laid a lot of groundwork for his later rise to power.
The Battle of Aboukir. From Wikipedia.
In the centre of the south-east façade, on the tympanum of the arch, are depictions of two winged female figures blowing horns. There are two identical figures on the north-west façade as well. Taken together, these four sculptures are called Les Renommées (the Renowned), and were done by sculptor James Pradier. The women are a personification of victory.
Also on the south-east façade, located to the right of the arch on the east pillar, is a second bas-relief: Les funérailles du général Marceau (the funeral of General Marceau), by P.H. Lamaire. François Séverin Marceau (1769-1796) was a highly-respected General of the French Revolutionary wars. Some of his career highlights include his participation in the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 and saving a French politician (Pierre Bourbot) from insurgents during the Battle of Saumur (June 19, 1793). Marceau was mortally wounded during the Battle of Limburg (September 16-19, 1796), at the young age of twenty-seven. Everyone was eager to pay tribute to the fallen war hero, even the Austrian army (who he was fighting at the time). His funeral was held on September 20, 1796. Marceau’s ashes are located in the Panthéon.
The Funeral of General Marceau. From Wikipedia.
The frieze at the very top of the south-eastern façade, which extends the entire width of the monument, is Le Départ des Armées (the Departure of the Armies), by Sylvestre Brun, Georges Jacquot, and Charles-René Laitié . This frieze actually circles the entire top of the Arc de Triomphe. On this side, the armies are being sent off to their campaigns in Egypt and Italy. It seems fitting that this relief is found on the side of the Arc de Triomphe that faces the Avenue de Champs-Élysées, as this is where the Bastille Day military parade begins.
All photos from Wikipedia.
With the top features of the south-east façade covered, I’ll now talk about the two large sculptural reliefs that can be found mid-level on this side of the monument (there are four in total). I’ll discuss them based on the chronological order of the scenes they are depicting.
The first and most famous of the sculptural reliefs is Le Départ de 1792 (Departure of the Volunteers ) by François Rude, commonly known as La Marseillaise. This sculpture commemorates the Insurrection of August 10, 1792. On that day, political tensions between Louis XVI, the government, and the French people came to a head. The Tuileries Palace (where Louis XVI was residing with his family) was stormed by the National Guard***** of the Paris Commune and National Guard volunteers from Marseille and Brittany. The monarchy was formally ended six weeks later, and the French First Republic (1792-1804) was established.
This relief was used during the first few months of World War I to inspire French citizens to enlist in the army and/or buy war bonds. Look closely at the sword being brandished by the warrior angel in the picture below. Does it look different from the rest of the sculpted figures? Like it’s composed of different, newer material? Allegedly, the original sword snapped clean off the relief during World War I on February 21, 1916, the day that the Battle of Verdun began. The Battle of Verdun was fought between the French and the Germans on the Western Front in north-eastern France, and was the longest campaign of the war it lasted until December 18, 1916. Tarps were put up to hide the sight of the broken sword, in case superstitious onlookers took it as a bad omen. Although the Battle of Verdun resulted in a French victory, it came at a cost: nine villages were destroyed 250,000 people died and at least half a million people were wounded.
The second relief is Le Triomphe de 1810 by Jean-Pierre Cortot, which celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Schönbrunn between France and Austria at the Schönbrunn palace (near Vienna) on October 14, 1809. In the relief, Napoleon is being crowned by the Goddess of Victory. This treaty was signed after the Austrian army lost to Napoleon and his combined French and Bavarian forces during the Battle of Wagram, which was fought from July 5-6, 1809. This battle was part of the War of the Fifth Coalition, which saw the Allied forces of Austria, Britain, Spain, and Portugal united against Napoleon. Although a peace was signed with Austria, the other three countries would remain at war with Napoleon, leading to the later War of the Sixth Coalition. But, for now, Napoleon was victorious. The Emperor of Austria, Francis I, married his daughter Marie Louise to Napoleon. Napoleon had the wooden Arc de Triomphe set up in 1810 to celebrate his return to Paris from this victory and wedding.
A close-up of a sculpted figure with what looks to be a castle tower on her head.
Now we’ll talk about the second main exterior façade of the Arc de Triomphe, the one that faces north-west and the Avenue de la Grand-Armée. There are two more large sculptural reliefs located on the pillars here. La Paix de 1815 is on the left (north) pillar, and La Résistance de 1814 is on the right (west) pillar. I’ll talk about these sculptures in greater detail shortly but, first, I’ll discuss the other items located towards the top of the Arc. Again, I’ll cover them from left to right.
At the far left, on the north pillar is a third bas-relief: La prise d’Alexandrie (The Fall of Alexandria), by J.E. Chapponière. This battle, fought on July 3, 1798, was also part of Napoleon’s Egypt-Syria campaign during the French Revolutionary Wars. In fact, it precedes the previously discussed Battle of Aboukir (the first bas-relief we discussed) by nearly a year. During this battle, Napoleon fought and eliminated most of the Egyptian army. This victory effectively sealed his conquest of Egypt.
The Fall of Alexandria. From Wikipedia.
In the centre of the north-west façade, on the tympanum of the arch, are two more winged female figures. They are a continuation of Les Renommées (the Renowned), by James Pradier.
At the far right, on the west pillar is a fourth bas-relief: Le passage du pont Arcole (The Battle of Arcole), by J.J. Feuchère. This battle was fought between French and Austrian forces 25 kms southeast of Verona, Italy from November 15-17, 1796. It was part of the War of the First Coalition that took place during the French Revolutionary Wars. Trying to inspire his men to attack, Napoleon grabbed a flag and stood in the open about 55 paces from a bridge that divided the French from their enemy. It was a bold move, standing right in the line of fire, and he could have been killed (several members of his staff were shot, and one of them did die). Depictions of the scene, such as this relief, often show Napoleon standing on the bridge itself. The victorious French then went on to seize Venice.
The Battle of Arcole. From Wikipedia.
The frieze at the very top of the north-west façade is a continuation of the one we discussed on the south-east. This time, the armies are returning from Egypt and Italy in La retour des armées, by Louis Caillouette, François Rude, and Bernard Gabriel Seurre.
All photos from Wikipedia.
With the top features of the north-west façade covered, I’ll now talk about the last two large sculptural reliefs that can be found mid-level on this side of the monument. Again, I’ll discuss them based on the chronological order of the scenes they are depicting.
The relief on the right (west) pillar is La Résistance de 1814, by Antoine Étex. As previously mentioned, Britain, Spain, and Portugal remained officially at war with Napoleon after the signing of the Treaty of Schönbrunn in 1809. By 1814, Austria was back in action again and a few more countries had signed up to bring Napoleon down: Prussia, Sweden, a number of German states, and Russia. This was the War of the Sixth Coalition. The Allied powers defeated Napoleon and his army in a series of battles that pushed him out of Germany they pursued and triumphed over him in more campaigns across France they marched into and occupied Paris on March 30, 1814 finally, they forced Napoleon to abdicate on April 11. The relief commemorates the resistance of the French people to the occupying powers.
The relief on the left (north) pillar is La Paix (Peace) de 1815, which was also designed by Antoine Étex. It commemorates the Treaty of Paris, which was initially signed on May 30, 1814 between France and the Allied powers, and was later concluded in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna. The governing of France was handed over to Louis XVIII (the younger brother of Louis XVI), with the understanding that he would do so as a constitutional monarch. This period was known as the Bourbon Restoration, and lasted from 1814-1830 (with a short break of 100 days or so in 1814-1815, when Napoleon briefly returned to power).
I’ll have to admit that I don’t really understand the inclusion of these two reliefs on the Arc. They both act to commemorate the defeat suffered by Napoleon and the French army during the War of the Sixth Coalition. The reliefs on the other side (Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise and Le Triomphe de 1810) are both celebrations of national triumph. Taken together, are the four reliefs meant to show that there are two sides to every coin? Victory and defeat? Pride and humility? One thing is for certain, France did not remain peaceful after 1815. Seven armed uprisings broke out in Paris alone between 1830-1848. But those are stories for another time.
There are two remaining façades of the Arc de Triomphe to cover. Thankfully, they have less decoration so we can cover them a little more quickly. Below is the east façade of the Arc de Triomphe (on the right of the Arc), which contains a fifth bas-relief. To help situate the monument, the Avenue de Champs-Élysées would be found to the left of the Arc, and the Avenue de la Grande-Armée on the right.
The fifth bas-relief featured on the east façade is La bataille de Jemappes (The Battle of Jemappes), by Carlo Marochetti. This battle took place on November 6, 1792 near the town of Jemappes (then in the Austrian Netherlands, today a part of Belgium). It was during the War of the First Coalition, which was part of the French Revolutionary War. This is the earliest of the battle scene depictions on the Arc de Triomphe, and occurs only three months after the events that inspired Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise. The battle was fought by General Charles François Dumouriez and his army of French Revolutionary volunteers against the Austrian army of the Holy Roman Empire. Their victory increased the confidence of the burgeoning French Republic, and motivated future campaigns (of which there would be many).
The Battle of Jemappes. From Wikipedia.
Below is the west façade of the Arc de Triomphe, which also contains just one bas-relief. The Avenue de Champs-Élysées would be found on the right side of the monument, and the Avenue de la Grande-Armée on the left.
The scene in the sixth and final bas-relief is La bataille d’Austerlitz (the Battle of Austerlitz), by J.F.T. Gechter. It took place on December 2, 1805. If you recall, this was the battle that inspired Napoleon to erect the Arc de Triomphe. His French army was victorious over the Russians and Austrians. This was part of the War of the Third Coalition. In the aftermath of this battle, Austria lost lands in Italy and Bavaria to France, and in Germany to Napoleon’s German allies. Napoleon established the Confederation of the Rhine from 16 German states, which was intended to act as a buffer between France and the rest of central Europe (necessary, because a lot of nations were still eager to take on Napoleon). This union of German states also led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire—this was a tectonic shift for Europe, since that Empire had been around for a thousand years (its first Emperor was Charlemagne from 800-814 C.E.).
The Battle of Austerlitz. From Wikipedia.
Before we move inside the Arc, take a look at the photo below. It was taken standing on the Avenue de Champs-Élysées. Note that there is one tall, main arch that makes up the interior. From this perspective, you can easily envision yourself walking straight through it. Now look closer and notice that there is a smaller arch on the left side of the main arch, located between the two pillars. If you were walking through the main arch, you could take a left and walk through this one. There is a second matching arch located between the two pillars on the right side. That makes three arches in total!
Imagine that you’re standing where I am when I took the photo above, at the head of the Avenue de Champs-Élysées. Now imagine that you’re going to walk straight toward the Arc and pass all the way through it to the other side (don’t worry about the traffic, I promise this imaginary excursion is safe). Take note of the first pillar you walk by on your left side (the south pillar), and the small arch (also on your left side). Once you get to the other side of the Arc, turn around and look back at that south pillar. That is where I was standing when I took the photo (two paragraphs) below.
In the below photo I am standing just outside of the Arc, looking in towards the small arch that was on your left side (let’s call this the south-west arch). You can see two pillars the first (south) pillar that you walked by is towards the left of the photo. The other pillar, the one on the right, is the west pillar. The exterior of the south pillar faces the Avenue de Champs-Élysées and contains the relief Le Triomphe de 1810. The exterior of the pillar on the right, the west pillar, faces the Avenue de la Grand-Armée and contains the relief La Résistance de 1814.
The left and right columns that are facing in towards the main arch contain a list of names. The names on the left side begin with “Loano”, “Millesimo”, “Dego”, “Mondovi”, etc. The names on the right side begin with “Le Bastan”, “Le Boulou”, “Burgos”, “Espinosa”, etc. These are lists of major French victories in the Napoleonic Wars. The battles that took place during the Hundred Days, between when Napoleon escaped Elba and when he was defeated at Waterloo, are not included.
Below is a close-up of the last battle listed on the south pillar. Gaeta (Gaete in French) is a city in Italy located on the west coast, roughly halfway between Rome and Naples. The Siege of Gaeta took place from February 26-July 18, 1806 and resulted in a French victory. It was part of the War of the Third Coalition, and happened shortly after Napoleon’s forces invaded the Kingdom of Naples on February 8, 1806. Louis of Hesse-Philippsthal, the General of the Neopolitan garrison, held out in the fortress city of Gaeta for five months until he and his forces had to surrender.
We’re looking at the south pillar again, but this time I’ve zoomed in on the interior of the smaller arch. You can now see two more columns facing into the small arch. “Adige” is the first name on the top left column, and “Naples” is the first name on the top right. Between these columns is a sculptural relief and a list of names.
Below is a close-up of that list of names. These are names of military leaders who served during the French Revolution and the French Empire. 660 people are listed, 558 of which are French generals. When a name is underlined, that means that person died on the battlefield. For example, “Bon Lanusse”, the top name in one of the centre rows, is underlined. Shortly below it, “Dubois” is underlined as well. A line of text running underneath the rows of names indicates which companies the men were a part of: “Armees de Dalmatie”, “D’Egypte”, etc.
If we were to turn around and face the west pillar, this would be the list of names we would see there. Note again, underneath these rows of names, are the companies the men were a part of: “Armees de Pyrenees”, etc. Again, there are two columns on the right and left that face the inside of the small arch with lists of names. I noticed something on these columns. If you look at the right column, the names have a border with a double line on either side of them. The names also seem to be more human-sounding than location-related (“Lacroix P,” and “D’Henin” for example). I think that this border indicates that these are the names of more military leaders and Generals, rather than battle names. On the column on the far left, you’ll notice that the bottom list is similar (more human names). But the top list doesn’t have any borders. I think that top list is names of battles, again. You might notice this pattern on some of the other columns. I wanted to point it out here, where it’s easier to tell the difference.
The exterior of the west pillar faces the Avenue de la Grand-Armée and contains the relief La Résistance de 1814.
In the picture below, I have stepped back outside of the small southwest arch we have been studying and am now facing it. You can see that the ceilings of both the small arch and the main arch (directly above me) contain sculpted roses.
In the picture below, I’ve taken another step further away from the south-west arch.
I did not take matching photos of the other small arch, the north-east one. When you were doing your imaginary walk through the Arc, this arch would have been on your right side. If you were standing where I was in the photo above, you would have seen it if you had turned around. I never know the shape of a future blog post when I’m actually visiting a site, so sometimes I miss things that I later wish I had photographed. I’ll try my best to explain it in detail with what I do have.
Remember where we started our imaginary walk through the Arc de Triomphe? We were standing on the Avenue de Champs-Élysées, facing it. Then we walked all the way through. Imagine that we’ve done this again. Now we’re back at the other side of the Arc, standing in the middle of the entrance (instead of to the side, as I was when I described the south pillar, above). Our back is to the Avenue de la Grand-Armée. To our right is the small south-west arch that we’ve already studied. To the left is the other arch we have not yet studied, the north-east one. Note the column on the left facing the inside of the main arch that has a list of French victories, starting with “Lille.”
This is the same view as above, just one step further in.
In the photo below, we’ve turned so that we’re facing left and have stepped in front of the left column for a closer study of the French victory list that begins with the name “Lille.” This column is located on the north pillar. The exterior of this pillar faces the Avenue de la Grand-Armée and contains the sculptural relief La Paix de 1815.
If we stepped inside the north-east arch, this is the list of names that we would find on the north pillar. Again, notice the army companies are found underneath the rows of names: “Armees du Nord”, “Des Ardennes”, etc. Again, I think there are two different kinds of lists on the columns that face the interior of the small arch. If a list has an exterior border, it contains human names. You can see on the right column that “Desvaux” and “Burcy” are underlined, indicating that they died on the battlefield. If a list doesn’t have an exterior border, like the one on the top of the left column, it is a list of French military victories.
If we were to turn around, we would be facing the east pillar. This is the list of names we would find there. The army companies cannot be seen in this frame, but they are the: “Armees du Danube, D’Helvetie, Des Grisons, Des Alpes, Du Var D’Italie, De Rome, De Naples.” The exterior of this east pillar faces the Avenue de Champs-Élysées once more, and contains the sculptural relief of Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise.
I’ve already used this picture, but decided to post it again because it’s the best shot I have of the north-east arch.
All right, thank you for bearing with me for the most detailed written explanation of the Arc de Triomphe you’ll find outside of a guidebook (why do I do this to us?). Mercifully, for both you (the reader) and me (the writer), Neil and I were not feeling up to the task of visiting the exhibition inside the Arc de Triomphe or waiting in an hours-long line to climb the 284 steps to the top. We had just been dropped off after our day trip to see Monet’s gardens and were feeling a little burned out. Walking around the bottom of the monument was enough for us! We had also already been to the top of Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower, so we felt like we had already seen plenty of the Parisian skyline.
Another view of the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel Tower (from the second observation deck).
A view of the Arc de Triomphe from the top viewing deck of the Eiffel Tower. In the picture below, you can kind of make out some people standing at the top.
As you can see, the Arc de Triomphe already contains a lot of history in just its design, sculptures, and lists of military leaders and victories. A lot of this history precedes the completion of the monument itself. As you’ll see, the Arc’s symbolism as a testament to French military history quickly earned it a place of its own in history. France was not done with war in 1836, the year of the Arc’s completion. Not even close.
The man who had first commissioned the Arc de Triomphe did not live to see it completed. Napoleon died while he was in captivity, on the remote South Atlantic island of Saint-Helena on May 5, 1821. Louis-Philippe I oversaw the final construction of the Arc from 1830-1836. In 1840, he gained permission from the British to bring Napoleon’s remains back to France. A state funeral was held for Napoleon in Paris on December 15, 1840, during which his hearse was carried under the Arc. This can be seen, symbolically, as a moment of closure between the General and his monument.
Napoleon’s funeral carriage passing under the Arc de Triomphe. Jean Valmy-Baysse. From Wikipedia.
In 1880, the Arc became the starting point for the Bastille Day military parade. It has been held almost every year on July 14 since then. From 1882 to 1886, a plaster sculpture depicting a chariot drawn by horses adorned the top of the arch: Le triomphe de la Révolution (The Triumph of the Revolution), by Alexandre Falguière. The plaster quickly crumbled, and a bronze version that could have better stood up to the elements was never commissioned. The Musée d’Orsay contains an artist’s model of the sculpture.
From theMusée d’Orsay’s official website.
When French author Victor Hugo died on May 22, 1885, his body was laid in state under the Arc for one night. In the picture below, you can see the plaster sculpture of Falguière’s Le triomphe de la Révolution, which was still present at the time.
Funeral Ceremony for Victor Hugo. Antique 1885 print. From Wikipedia.
The Arc has also served as a rallying point by the French army in times of victory, and by its opponents in those of its defeat. 30,000 Prussian, Bavarian, and Saxon troops marched under the Arc on March 1, 1871 following German victory in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).
Prussians parade through Paris, March 1871. From Wikipedia.
On July 14, 1919, the French and their Allies were able to take their turn in a special victory parade held after the conclusion of World War I (1914-1918), celebrating their defeat of the Germans. You can watch video footage of this moment on Youtube, here. (The Arc de Triomphe shows up about 30 seconds into the video).
The Victory Pararde in Paris, July 14, 1919. From the Imperial War Museums.
On August 7, three weeks after the victory parade, Charles Godefroy flew through the Arc de Triomphe in a biplane******. This extraordinary feat is on Youtube, which you can see here.
A still from the video of Godefroy flying his biplane through the Arc de Triomphe.
Photographed by Jacques Mortane. August 7, 1919. From Wikipedia.
On November 20, 1916, as the terrible Battle of Verdun was winding down, F Simon (President of the French Memory) had the idea of laying the body of one French soldier to rest in the Panthéon to symbolically honour all of the men fighting for France in the Great War. There, the soldier would be joining the historic ranks of other prominent French military leaders, including François-Severin Marceau, who had died defending the fatherland. This idea gained traction after the conclusion of World War I. On November 12, 1919, French officials decided to officially move forward with it. However, a public letter writing campaign convinced the French Parliament to change the location of the burial from the Panthéon to the Arc de Triomphe. The body of one unknown soldier, meant to symbolize the sacrifice made by so many other soldiers whose remains were never found or identified, was commemorated at the Arc de Triomphe on November 10, 1920. The coffin containing the soldier was first placed in the Arc’s chapel on the first floor. It was then moved to its present location underneath the main arch, ground level, facing the Avenue de Champs-Élysees. The inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier reads: “Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914-1918.” A ceremony is held every November 11 to honour the sacrifice made by him and his peers.
Standing at the foot of the tomb.
The tomb is located in front of the south-west arch.
The dedication below translates as: November 1918, return from Alsace and Lorraine to France.”
The tomb also contains an eternal flame, which was lit on November 11, 1923 at 6:00 pm. It was the first eternal flame that had been lit in Europe since the sacred flame once tended by the Vestal Virgins in Rome was extinguished in 394 C.E². It is revived every night during a ceremony held at 6:30 pm. Incredibly, this tradition continued even during the Nazi Occupation of France during World War II.
Standing at the head of the tomb, with the eternal flame at the forefront.
Of course, France was (still!) not yet done with war in 1920. I’m going to jump ahead in my story a little, because a description of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier would not be complete without acknowledging that today it commemorates lives lost in World War I and World War II. The inscription below translates as: “To the Fighters of the Armies To the Fighters of the Resistance [who] Died for France 1939-1945.”
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier also contains a touching dedication to student resisters of the German occupation. The inscription below reads: “In tribute to high school students, and students from France, who defied the army of the Nazi occupiers, on November 11, 1940, risking their lives.”
Nazi Germany occupied Paris on June 10, 1940. As Armistice Day (November 11) approached that same year, the Nazis forbade ceremonies, church services, or war commemoration of any kind. They didn’t want to risk an uprising. In spite of this order, 3,000-5,000 university and high school students marched down the Avenue de Champs-Élysées. The Nazis had been using this avenue as a route for their many military parades. On this day, the students reclaimed it in one of the first demonstrations made against the Occupation, and they laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The reprisal, as expected, was swift and violent: many demonstrators were injured, and around a hundred students were arrested or imprisoned.
Demonstration of November 11, 1940. Students from the Institut agronomique prepare to lay flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From the Museum of National Resistance, Champigny-sur-Marne.
You might have noticed in the photos above that there was a plaque containing the image of a flaming sword. This plaque was added after World War II. It contains the insignia of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), which was the London headquarters for the Commander (General Dwight D. Eisenhower) of the the Allied forces from 1943-1945. The plaque is dated August 25, 1944, marking the Liberation of Paris.
With the description of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier done (with a brief jump ahead to explain some of the features that were added due to World War II), I’m going to back the narrative up just a bit. Although the “Great War” was meant to be the “war to end all wars”, we all know now that more was to come. Nazi Germany attacked and defeated the French army on May 10, 1940. The Germans occupied Paris on June 14 and, just like 1871, enemy combatants incorporated the Arc de Triomphe in their victory march. This was daringly followed in November by the march of the student resisters, as previously discussed.
German troops parade down the Champs-Élysées. From the German Federal Archive, 1940. From Wikipedia.
The city was liberated by French and American troops on August 25, 1944. On August 26, French General Charles de Gaulle led an Allied victory parade around the Arch de Triomphe and down the Champs-Élysées. Both the Germans and the French avoided going directly under the arch, out of respect for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Instead, they marched around it. All military parades that have taken place since 1919 have observed this custom.
A colourised photo of the Allied victory parade that took place on August 26, 1944.
Crowds of French patriots line the Champs-Élysées to view Free French tanks and half tracks of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division pass, after Paris was liberated on August 26, 1944. Jack Downey, US Office of War Information. From Wikipedia.
The Arc de Triomphe continues to be an important national symbol for the French. Every year, it serves as the centre of celebrations for France’s national holiday on July 14, la Fête national (known in English as Bastille Day). A large tricolour flag is hung inside the Arc for the occasion. The Arc is the starting point for the military parade, and a twenty-minute fly past is done by the Patrouille Acrobatique de France over the Arc with 9 fighter jets. On New Year’s Eve, the Arc de Triomphe hosts a light show and fireworks celebration.
Unfortunately, the Arc de Triomphe has also been a target for terrorist attacks and vandalism. In 1995, a bomb set off by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria wounded 17 people. Most recently, the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized on December 1, 2019 by protesters taking part in the Yellow Vests movement. On March 16, 2019 riots along the Avenue de Champs-Élysees led to 80 business being damaged, pillaged, and set on fire. Dissent and protest have a long history in France and are a key part of a functioning democracy, but hopefully the violence and destruction of property will soon come to an end.
I hope you enjoyed this visit of the Arc de Triomphe! This is my longest travel blog post yet. I will be impressed if you were able to read it in one sitting.
¹ The original name of the area that contains the Arc de Triomphe and the Place Charles de Gaulle was the “Butte Chaillot” (Chaillot mound). Prior to the roadwork in 1777, it was where a number of hunting trails converged.
² Napoleon commissioned the construction of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel at the same time, which is located near the Louvre. It is only half the size of the Arc de Triomphe d’Étoile, measuring 63 feet (19 m) high, 75 feet (23 m) wide, and 24 feet (7.3 m) deep. It was built, and completed, between 1806-1808.
Below is a selfie taken while standing inside the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
Below is a glimpse through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which is also located on the Axe Historique. Through it you can see the Arc de Triomphe, which is about 3.5 km away. The obelisk standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe is situated at the The Place de la Concorde, which is where Louis XVI was guillotined during the French Revolution. The obelisk once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple, and it was gifted to France by Egypt in 1829. It was raised in the square on October 25, 1836 (it took a few years to get the obelisk to France).
The obelisk is shown below.
³ Below is a picture of the Arch of Titus, the Roman inspiration for the Parisian Arc de Triomphe. It was erected in 82 C.E. by the Emperor Domitian, to commemorate the victories of his older brother Emperor Titus after his passing in 81 C.E. I’ll also talk more about this arch in another post.
**** As a Canadian, something that comes to my mind is that the Arc de Triomphe is almost like a precursor to the Stanley Cup. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in history this comparison has ever been made.
***** The National Guard is a French military and police reserve force. It was founded on July 13, 1789 as a “garde bourgeoise” (bourgeois militia), and was separate from the French army. It was revolutionary in nature and sympathetic to the cause of the lower classes. On July 14, 1789 this militia stormed the Bastille and the Hôtel Invalides in search of weapons. The officers of the National Guard were elected, and a law issued on October 14, 1791 decreed that all “active citizens” and their children over the age of 18 were required to enlist. Their uniforms matched the French tricolour: dark blue coats with red collars, white lapels and cuffs.
****** Sadly, another man, ace fighter pilot Jean Navarre, died on July 10, 1919 during a practice flight for his attempt at flying through the Arc de Triomphe. Charles Godefroy volunteered to replace him.
Need a cheat sheet to keep the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars straight? Me too.
TITUS, ARCH OF
(1) A triumphal arch commemorating *Titus' victory over the Jews and his conquest of Jerusalem, erected in 80 c.e. during his reign as emperor, apparently at the eastern end of the Circus Maximus in Rome. This arch, no longer extant, is known from its inscription, which was copied in the Middle Ages. Dedicated by the senate and the Roman people in honor of Titus, the inscription enumerates his virtues and refers to the submission of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem as a feat unparalleled among the achievements of former kings and commanders.
(2) At a later stage, during the reign of Titus' brother Domitian, another triumphal arch was either erected or completed to commemorate this victory. This arch, which is extant, was set up at the western end of the Via Sacra. While it may have been started before the time of Domitian, it was definitely completed after Titus' death, since the inscription refers to him as divine (Divo Tito). Regarded as an architectural masterpiece, it influenced the architecture of the following period. It has a dedicatory inscription and various bas-reliefs, the best known being the one on the inner wall of the arch which shows the Temple vessels carried in a triumphal procession as spoils. These consist of the table of shewbread, the trumpets, the censers, and the seven-branched candlestick, which is especially conspicuous, being carried aloft by the victors. The design of the candlestick has raised many problems and much has been written on it, the authenticity of the base in particular being called in question, as it consists of two hexagons, the one superimposed on the other, on whose sides dragons are depicted. Some regard this design as authentic, others as the fruit of the artist's imagination (see *Menorah). On the inner wall, opposite the bas-relief of the Temple vessels, Titus is portrayed as the victor riding in a chariot drawn by four horses and being garlanded by the goddess of victory. The arch of Titus, symbolizing and glorifying the victory of Rome, has been for the Jews the symbol of their defeat and tragedy consequent on the failure of the war against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. During the Middle Ages no Jew was allowed to, or would, pass under the Arch, paying instead a fee to be allowed to go through a neighboring house.
A Review of the YU Museum’s “Arch of Titus” Exhibit
Over the Sukkot break, I decided to take a trip to the YU Museum and take a look at its new exhibit, “The Arch of Titus: From Jerusalem to Rome, and Back.” Not having learned about it in my previous schooling, getting to learn about the Arch, and view the replica that was made for the exhibit was a real treat. The exhibit explores, through writing and artifacts, the conquer of Rome over Jerusalem, and the implications of this event on Jewish history. The exhibition gives over a thorough telling of this history, beginning with the conquering of Jerusalem by Titus through the creation of the state of Israel.
From 66-74 CE, the Romans went to war with the Jews in hopes of conquering the holy city of Jerusalem, and their holy Temple. Celebrating their victory, the Romans destroyed the Temple, and took whatever was left inside, including the big golden Menorah. In honor of this success, the Arch of Titus was built to commemorate Titus’s victory over Jerusalem, and his other victories as well. Within the Arch is a depiction of the Roman soldiers carrying their spoils of war, which includes the vessels used in the Temple.
The Jews regarded the Arch of Titus with contempt and sadness. The Church humiliated the Jews by making them walk through the Arch and adorn the sculpture inside. Christians viewed the Arch as a proof of God’s punishment to the Jews for not converting to Christianity. Thanks to the Christians’ interest in the architecture and meaning behind the Arch, the Arch has been preserved over the years. Through years of wear and tear, many leaders have kept up the restorations of the Arch. Napoleon began restoring the Arch, and then made his own version of the Arch, Arc de Triomphe, in Paris. When Pope Pius VII came to power, he restored the Arch to its original glory, making it the center of Catholic Rome. Since then, Jews have begun a tradition of refusing to walk under the Arch.
Years later, early Zionists viewed the Arch of Titus as a symbol of Exile, and the return of the Menorah to Israel symbolized their goals in the new State. In fact, throughout the history of the Arch’s existence, Jews did not let the depressing history of the Arch ruin their hope. Rather, they utilized that hope in their art, poetry, literature, and public performances. The famous Menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus has been the inspiration for emblems in both synagogues and the military. The Menorah was even used as the insignia of the Jewish Legion of the British Army during World War I. An interesting fact that I learned while examining the exhibit was that the Menorah portrayed in the Arch of Titus is the same Menorah picked as the symbol for the new State of Israel. Cool, huh? By choosing the Menorah as its emblem, a better understanding of the disaster that led to the building of the Arch was integrated into the new State’s foundations.
In 1947, after the United Nations declared Israel as Jewish State, the Jews of Rome, together with Holocaust survivors, finally walked under the Arch of Titus in reverse, symbolizing and ending the exile that was brought about by Titus. Today, the Arch of Titus still stands in Via Sacra, Rome in Italy, depicting what once was, and what will never be again.
Through reading the panels of history on the wall, and viewing the artifacts displayed in the viewing cases centered in the room, you can get a pretty good sense of the history behind the Arch of Titus and the symbolic Menorah. Each panel covering the walls of the room distinguishes and explains the history behind the momentous Arch. Following the history of the Arch on the walls is the explanation of the historic Menorah. Pictures and descriptions show how the Menorah inspired other artists, like Nahum Gutman, to create artwork featuring the Menorah.
But the main attraction of the exhibit is the recreating of the “Spoils of Jerusalem” on the wall. Not only does the presentation illustrate how the Arch looks today, but it also depicts what the carving had looked like back in 82 BCE, and what it would look like in color. This can be seen nowhere but at this exhibit. Through this presentation, you can truly get a picture of what the carving must have looked like when it was made all the way back in 82 CE. A slide show tells of how the scene was restored and copied over to make the imitation that is in the exhibition today.
So, if you don’t want to miss out on this incredible viewing and learning opportunity, be sure to check out the Arch of Titus exhibit from September 14, 2017 through January 14, 2018 at the YU Museum on 15 West 16 th Street.
The exhibition was made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation, The Slomo and Cindy Silvian Foundation, the Leon Charney Legacy Fund of the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, George Blumenthal and by Friends and Donors of Yeshiva University Museum.
In early modern times the arch’s condition deteriorated considerably. The first serious restoration was carried out on the arch between 1817 and 1821. The 19th century restoration works on the outer surfaces of the side of the arch were deliberately finished in travertine rather than the Roman marble, with the intention that the restored parts of the structure should be easily distinguishable from the original materials. A considerable amount of new masonry was added, as well as a number of completely new capitals.
History of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
The Arc de triomphe has become one of the most famous monuments in Paris and is probably the most well known of all triumphal arches in the world. And located on the western end of the Champs Elysees at the infamous Place Charles-de-Gaulle square, it is a landmark that stands out from many others and is very hard to miss seeing when you are on holiday in Paris in the Ile de France region.
The purpose for the Arc de Triomphe was to celebrate the victories of Napoleon I and his army, but unfortunately he never got to see this triumphal arc finished, but we are getting way ahead of ourselves here, so lets start at the beginning.
The Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 led to the victory for Napoleon I and it was then shortly after this victory that he declared to his soldiers, ‘you will march home through arches of victory’.
The capital city of Paris was at the heart of his empire and Napoleon I wanted this to be a grand city and in his eyes the most beautiful in the world.
So in the February of 1806 plans were put in place for a column dedicated to the Grande Armee, which is the column at Place Vendome that can still be seen today. An imperial decree was also confirmed in order to complete The Pantheon and the triumphal arch was agreed upon at this time as well.
Napoleon I originally wanted the triumphal arch to be located on the East side of Paris right near the site of the former Bastille Prison and it would be a monument that would dominate the whole of the city. With these ideas in his mind, in March 1806, it was the architect Jean-Francois Chalgrin who was chosen, to find the most suitable place for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
After studying several different options including those of Napoleon himself, it was decided that the Place de l’Etoile at the end of the Champs Elysees was the best location, as this was ‘the’ grand avenue that had been opened up by Colbert in the 18th century and certainly the most appropriate for victory marches.
In May 1806, the trusted architects Jean-Francois Chalgrin and Jean-Arnaud Raymond were both chosen to work alongside each other and come up with the grand ideas along with the plans, so that work could start on the Arc de Triomphe.
The ideas came from the Arch of Titus in Rome as it was based upon one arch rather than those with three arches and the highest being for the victor, and on the 15th August the first stone was laid to coincide with the birth date of Napoleon.
But in the same year work also started on the other triumphal arch known as the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and this smaller Arc de Triomphe is located between The Louvre Museum and the former Tuileries Palace.
But getting back to the famous Arc de Triomphe at Place de l’Etoile
And this also provided Jean-Francois Chalgrin the opportunity to make some last minute changes to the design, but even he never saw the completion of the triumphal arch as Chalgrin died in 1811.
But work resumed when a former pupil, by the name of Louis-Robert Goust, took over from Chalgrin, however, the progress of the Arc de Triomphe stopped again when Paris fell in 1814 after the Imperial defeat and Napoleon went into exile.
It was not until 1824 that work on the Arc de triomphe was to start again, but the new architect Jean-Nicolas Huyot proposed many major changes and these were rejected, so it was not until May 1825 that King Charles X made the order for the original plans from Chalgrin to take effect.
Eventually Jean-Nicolas Huyot was removed from the Arc de Triomphe project and it was taken over by Guillaume-Abel Blouet when he returned to Paris under the reign of King Louis-Philippe.
The architect and designer Blouet also made some changes to the original drawings like re-designing the attic level of the Arc de Triomphe, but none of the changes were as radical or controversial as those of Huyot.
And eventually, many years after work first begun on this triumphal arch, it was eventually completed and the Arc de Triomphe was inaugurated in 1836 still under the reign of King Louis Philippe.
The Arc de Triomphe has been witness to many other events throughout the years and one such event was when the remains of Napoleon I were brought back to Paris. And during this parade they marched through the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees, through Place de la Concorde and to Les Invalides where you can get to see the Tomb of Napoleon, in a gesture of recognition to the person that first initiated its construction.
Then there is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal Flame, which was actually put in place in 1920 prior to the finish of the triumphal arch, which was in recognition of soldiers who died in World War I. Not forgetting that the Eternal Flame is re-kindled in a ceremony every evening and a newly appointed French President symbolically re-lights the flame in a commemoration ceremony upon his appointment as leader of the country.
A parade to celebrate the Liberation of Paris in 1944 was conducted from the Arc de Triomphe and many other events have taken place at this monument in Paris, such as the last leg of the Tour de France each year, and when France won the FIFA World Cup in July 1998 two of the impressive reliefs, being the Departure of the Volunteers and the Return of the Armies were lit up in red, white and blue for the colours of the French flag.
Of course, being an historical monument, things deteriorated over time and restoration work has to be conducted, and it was in 2010 that the four famous sculpted groups were fully cleaned and restored to their former glory, which is not surprising that this was required, being the triumphal arch is located in the centre of one of the world's largest junctions, or intersections.
Then, in 2017, major improvements and alterations were put in place at the Arc de Triomphe to make the visitor experience even better, but also a lift, or elevator, was installed along with ramps at the top viewing area enabling those people with reduced mobility or wheelchair users to also gain access to this monument, its museum and memorable views.
So when you are going to be on holiday in France and visiting the capital city, do take the time to admire this incredible monument, and if you have the chance, even take the time to enter the Arc de Triomphe to visit the museum and go up to the viewing platform for fabulous views to other monuments and landmarks in Paris like the Sacre Coeur Basilica and the newer Grande Arche in the Defense area, or enjoy the view down the historical axis of the Champs-Elysees, past the Place de la Concorde, all the way to The Louvre.
Address and contact details
Centre des Monuments Nationaux, Arc de Triomphe, Place Charles-de-Gaulle, 75008, Paris, Ile de France, France
GPS: 48.873765, 2.295031
Tel: +33 (0) 1 55 37 73 77
Fax: +33 (0) 1 44 95 02 13
Tel: +33 (0) 1 44 54 19 30
Fax: +33 (0) 1 44 54 19 31
The Shadow under the Arch of Titus
I recently posted pictures from my trip to the Republic of San Marino, a country entirely inside of Italy. This week’s post features a picture from Italy, specifically from the Roman Forum.
Before my Roman holiday, I revisited Edith Hamilton’s Mythology to brush up on the gods and goddesses. I did not, however, revisit the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 12 volumes. I resigned myself to reading every descriptive placard at every historical site, and moved on. Accordingly, when I arrived at the Arch of Titus, I admired the inscriptions and reliefs celebrating a battle victory in Jerusalem, and moved on.
When I returned home, I learned about a darker part of the history of the arch, somewhat related to a recent presentation by Prof. Aron-Beller on the papal inquisition in Modena, Italy. The reliefs do not celebrate a victory in Jerusalem, but rather the victory of Titus over Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
On July 14, 1555, Pope Paul IV created the Roman Jewish Ghetto with a papal bull entitled Cum Nimis Absurdum. Jewish Roman citizens were forced to wear yellow badges on their clothing. They were required to pay an annual fee to live in a walled off section of the city, the Ghetto. Perhaps most humiliatingly, the Jews of Rome were made to recite a yearly oath of submission to the city and to Christendom standing under the Arch of Titus.
On September 20, 1870, the Jewish ghetto was abolished when the Papal States were overthrown. Integration took time. Life under Cum Nimis Absurdum is described in this digitized 1877 book from the Library’s Canon Law collection (starting on page 33). But, the Arch of Titus maintained its status as a postcard-worthy, must-see attraction.
Thanks for sharing. Really interesting. The victorious arch casts a dark shadow beneath.
Hello! I enjoyed your blog post. However, I’d like to point out that the arch that you have pictured is not the Arch of Titus. I believe it is the Arch of Septimus Severus, although I am not positive. I just wanted to point that out as I am an art history student looking for a good picture of the Arch of Titus, and I found your image a bit confusing until I realized it is a different arch than that mentioned. How exciting that you traveled to Rome! Best wishes!
Oops! Well, who knows if I have a picture of the Arch of Titus? Rome was beautiful, but after a while it all looks the same (but beautiful!) to an untrained eye like mine.
Thanks for sharing. I just want to note that your photo is of Arch of Septimius Severus.
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Art History Presentation Archive
The Arch of Titus stands across the summit of the Via Sacra, looking down on the Forum Romanum, was built as a celebration of the victory of then-legate Titus (later emperor) in the 70 AD campaign in Jerusalem. The triumphal arch commemorates in stone relief the capture of Jerusalem and the spoils of the Temple, as well as Titus’ postmortem deification. However, the once-detailed stonework of the sections of the Arch of Titus, the details of the Arch’s founding, its builder, when it was built, even what exactly is represented on the reliefs of the Arch have been lost in the nearly two millennia since the Arch’s inception, leaving its scholars undecided as to whether the Arch’s depictions may used as veritable pieces of historical evidence.
The similarity of the present Arch to the original is singularly important in the consideration of the Arch of Titus as historical evidence. The Arch of Titus, as it stands now, with a simple podium on each side rooted in a base strengthening the overall arch design, has a single opening flanked by columns on either side. These columns are the first known example of the Composite Order, used widely in triumphal arches or other architectural celebrations of imperial power, perhaps because it was the only order originating in Rome (see Figure 1.G). However, this order may have been invented as much as a century earlier, during the Augustine era. The Order itself is a combination of the Corinthian order with two lower rows of acanthus leaves and four decorated volutes of the Ionic order as well (Adam 98). These columns are connected at the top by a soffit, the inner surface just below the arch, decorated by deeply recessed coffers and the apothesis of Titus, an engraved image of Titus flying to the sky on an eagle’s back. Above the soffit, rests the keystone, top and center, beautifully carved with the figures of Roma and Fortuna (see Figure 1.A). The area with the dedication, the attic story, is engraved “SENATATVS POPVLVS QVE ROMANVS DIVO TITO DIVI VESPASIAN F. VESPASIANO AVGVSTO,” roughly translated from Latin “The Senate and the People of Rome to the Divine Titus, son of the divine Vespasian.” Also engraved, though further down on the columns, are two friezes, on one side, the Emperor Titus in a triumphal car, and on the other, the representation of the spoils from the Temple of Jerusalem.
The arch as it stood, roughly two millennia ago is not so straightforward. In more recent times, we know that the dedication we read today was originally filled with bronze letters, and the arch was topped with bronze quadriga though these precious metals were likely melted down (See Figure 1.F). In the Middle Ages, the fornix of the arch was incorporated into the Frangipane Castle, allowing better preservation of the remaining portions of the Arch, though many pieces from the edges of the Arch were lost. In 1822, the architect Valadier restored portions of the Arch using travertine, to distinguish restoration from the Pentelic marble original (Batsford 83). Some of the heads on the figures in high relief were lost as well, though scholars have attempted to visualize the figures due to replications in paintings such as a drawing at Windsor of the frieze of the arch of Titus (Frothingham 479).
FUNCTION: TRIUMPHAL ARCHES IN ROME
In examining the friezes and depictions of the Arch, its original function and motives, including those of its builders, must be considered. Traditionally, triumphal arches were used as part of the grand procession of the triumphal general and his soldiers to enter Roma, sans weapons, which allowed the victors to cleanse themselves of the muck of war—physically and spiritually, to honor the gods and acknowledge the heaven’s contribution to Rome’s victory, and to popularize the war by literally parading its success. Due to the risk inherent in ‘inviting’ an armed mass into the city, the army camped instead in the Campus Martinus, until formally invited by the Senate to parade into the city, carrying with them the spoils, as shown on the Arch itself. Uniquely, the Arch of Titus depicts the procession, with the characters facing same direction they would have faced when entering the city, Titus in his chariot on one side, his spoils carried by conquered slaves on the other. This depiction allowed, and continues to allow, viewers and any who walk the Via Sacra, to ‘participate’ in the now-ancient procession and glorification as well.
The Arch’s deification of Titus is unquestionable, from the inscription dedicating the Arch to “Divot Tito,” the divine Titus, to the relief of the Triumph of Titus, illustrating Titus in a chariot, center of a triumphal procession, with Victory riding the chariot beside him and wreathing him in laurels, and a goddess (though now missing a head, identifiable as either Roma or Valor) leading the horses. Following the chariot is a young man, representative of the Roman people, and an older man, representative of the Senate. Also, a small relief shows the apotheosis of Titus, as he flies to the heavens on the back of an eagle depicting him joining the gods in the heavens. The Arch celebrates Titus as a deity, in the presence of goddesses, at the summit of the road through the Roman Forum, placing Titus and his arch on high.
As mentioned, Titus is not the only one glorified by the Arch. The most controversial relief is the Relief of the Spoils of the Jerusalem (70 AD), depicting the triumph that was thought to have culminated the Jewish Wars (66-73 AD). The relief shows the sacred treasures being brought in procession: the sacred seven-branched Menorah, the sacred Table, two receptacles, and two trumpets. There is controversy over whether the Menorah and Table shown are the sacred Jewish artifacts which, according to rabbinical teachings, were prescribed by God to Moses to be placed in the Temple of Jerusalem, and were so holy that it was forbidden, again by God, to make seven-branched Menorahs or copies in gold or any form of metal (and in some sects even in wood). Whether the relief is historically accurate is beside the point, at least as far as glorification of the Romans goes, the ability of the Roman army to carry treasures from the interior of the Temple, which were requested to be left in the Temple by God according to the Jewish, signifies a decisive victory of the Romans militarily and spiritually. Historically, the Roman Empire demonstrated an amazing ability to triumph militarily and hold land by cultural/spiritual assimilation. During this particular time, the conflict between the Jewish and Romans was still brewing, making Roman triumph, especially over the Jewish of emphatic significance in the Arch of Titus.
Perched as it is, atop the Roman Forum, at the crest of the Via Sacra, the triumphal procession, as described by Josephus, a Roman historian who accompanied Titus during the sacking of Jerusalem, was allowed to enter the skirts of the city, and wind its way through the Porta Triumphalis, then the Forum Boarium, Circus Maximus, and three theaters, acquiring a large crowd to view the captured golden table and menorah, as well as other spoils of the war, before cresting the hill, where all the most important buildings and citizens of Rome could clearly view the gathered mass. Thus, the arch served as a portal for Titus and the imperium to remind the populace, and in all likelihood the Senate as well, of the greatness of his accomplishments, and cement them in stone in perpetua.
The original builders and date of the Arch of Titus is much debated. Many of the hints of its date of origin come from the form of the Arch itself. This specific evidence narrows the date slightly:
I. The Arch was completed after the death of Titus himself, as he is referred to on the inscription as divus, god, and traditionally Roman emperors were deified only after death. Additionally, McFayden postulates that the ascent into heaven is the subject of the relief on the inner vault of the arch (131).
II. The Arch was completed after the creation of the “tomb of the Haterii” as the Arch is represented on one of the reliefs. However the fragments in the Lateran Museum cannot be accurately dated, though their artistic style suggests not earlier than Trajan and possibly as late as 135 A.D.
Arguments for building of the Arch are largely based motives for building: either pro-Titus or pro-Roman/anti-Jewish time periods. These include directly after Titus’s or Domitian’s deaths (pro-Titus) and after Jewish defeats or rebellious outbursts in Jerusalem. (81-135 AD: Range of Potential Times for Arch Completion)
In addition to form, the motive for building is largely used to aid in arguments for or against a certain builder. Titus, for instance, likely did not finish the building of the arch, not only because of the time crunch before his death, but because to deify himself, as a Roman, was just not done.
As the argument goes, his brother and successor, Domitian, another candidate as a builder, likely built the Arch as glorification of Titus would have been at a peak directly after Titus’ death and architectural style is similar to early Domitian architecture, including the completion of the Colosseum and the Temple of Vespasian, restoration after the fire of 80AD on the Temple of Jupiter, and the original building of the Flavian Palace and the Piazza Navona, much of which was built by his favored architect, Rabirius (Sear 145, McFayden 122, Boethius 227). However, Domitian was questionable due to his notorious jealously of his brother especially of Titus’ military triumphs, according to McFayden (122). In the case of the sacking of Jerusalem, Titus completed the work his father and emperor, Vespasian, had half finished, with Vespasian’s legatus and according to constitutional law, Titus had no formal glory for Jerusalem during his own time though his father allowed him to share in the triumph, a fact his brother would be unlikely to overlook. However, Domitian did allow Titus’ deification, though this is dismissed by McFayden as following the traditional deification that had occurred during the time of his father and brother (135). This deification emphasized the merits and imperial dignity of the Flavian family who had been Italian tradesmen until Vespasian and his brother attained senatorial rank, and some believe that the previous emperor, paranoid Nero, only allowed Vespasian to attain rank due to the unlikeliness that a commoner would ever be a contender for the throne. Since unlike father and brother, Domitian had no military triumphs to back his claim to the throne, only his descent placed him as emperor better descent from deities than from merchants.
Domitian, unlike his militarily-talented brother, was not as popular with the nobility. His attempts to deify his entire family, from aunt to young son, and increase his own dignity only served to alienate the nobility. When aristocrats participated in a series of conspiracies, Domitian responded with repressive measures, confiscations, exiles, and executions the last years of his reign were spent in persecution of the senatorial class, until his assassination in 96 A.D.
After Domitian, the Senate elected M. Cocceius Nerva as emperor. To placate the Flavian-loyal soldiers, the emperor associated with M. Ulpius Trajanus, the most honored general of his day. Both men are also candidates for builders of the Arch. After Domitian’s death, at the first Senate meeting, his statues and triumphal arches were demolished, his name erased from inscriptions, and most of his policies were reversed. As part of this anti-Domitian outlash Titus’s memory was exalted. Though previously an unpopular emperor due to his harshness and merchant-descent, during this period, Titus was used by historians as a contrast to the harsher Domitian his virtues were emphasized. Colleges and the temples changed to incorporated him further, one even designates itself as “the college that worships Titus and the other Flavians” (McFayden 141). For these reasons, McFayden strongly postulates that the Arch of Titus was not built during Domitian's time, but during the period of late Nerva or early Trajan reign.
However, whichever builder decided to build the arch, its majestic 15m were built to honor and glorify Titus, to make the viewer look up in awe at the accomplishments of Titus in Jerusalem, and by extension, Rome.
The Arch of Titus, especially its reliefs, has echoes in artwork throughout Western history and the history of Jerusalem. Surprisingly, much of the scholarship about the Arch of Titus is based in part on artwork from the Renaissance and earlier, featuring the Arch.
In a way, the symbolism of the menorah has already returned to Israel. Directly after the formation of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, E.L. Sikenik was asked to suggest a suitable state emblem. In answer, he created a coat of arms which consists of a shield with the menorah, as it appears on the Arch of Titus, in the center of a field with an olive branch on both sides and the word “Israel” in Hebrew connecting the branches. Ironically, the Arch’s relief, which once celebrated the defeat of the Jewish now, is proudly displayed on their national flag, as a celebration instead of the formation of a nation.
The Arch of Titus, though nearing its second millennia, is still discussed as a point of heated debate, especially whether such a monument could be used as historical reference. In many of the points of controversy: who built the arch, when it was built (though the textbook-attributed date is often 81-2 AD), whether the menorah shown is the sacred menorah whose unique building was decreed to the Jewish specifically by God according to rabbinical teachings, and what the Arch looked like before rains, wind, and time washed many of the figure’s faces from the stone, all tie into this theme. The Arch has collected its own history of preservation throughout the years, and continues to do so, as Valadier began, and M. Chiara Metallo and team continue as they research the effects of pollution on the marble-faced Arch of Titus and surrounding area. But what are they preserving—a testimony to triumph certainly, a piece of a procession probably, and perhaps even a depiction of historical fact. The surviving controversies, as well as the marble, still concern us today, as Israel reminds us, especially in light of the central roll of religious conflicts still going on around the world, now between Christianity and Islam. The keys to the controversies of the Arch, like the Temple menorah are lost to us today, either eroded or yet to be discovered, buried under ruins, leaving us to wonder and conjecture at their answers.
Adam, Robert. Classical Architecture: A Complete Handbook. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1990.
Axel Boethius and J. B. Ward-Perkins. Etruscan and Roman Architecture. Baltimore: Penguin Books Ltd., 1970.
Frothingham, A.L. “A Lost Section of the Frieze of the Arch of Titus.” American Journal of Archaeology. 18. 4 (1914): 479-483.
Jones, Brian W. The Emperor Titus. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.
McFayden, Donald. “The Date of the Arch of Titus.” The Classical Journal, 11.3 (1915): 131-141.
Sear, Frank. Roman Architecture. London, England: Batsford Academic and Educational Limited, 1982.
Yarden, Leon. The Spoils of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus: A Reinvestigation. Stockholm, Distributor Paul Astroms forlag, 1991.
The Arch of Titus – from Jerusalem to Rome, and Back
The Yeshiva University Museum and YU’s Center for Israel Studies will present “The Arch of Titus – from Jerusalem to Rome, and Back” from September 14, 2017, to January 14, 2018, at the YU Museum located at 15 West 16th Street, New York City.
The exhibition explores the historical and cultural significance of the Arch from its creation as a monument to the Roman triumph over the Jews in 70 C.E. through the medieval papacy and early modern rabbis, the Counter-Reformation, European Classicism and finally the Jewish and Israeli national re-appropriation of the Arch.
The YU Museum and Center for Israeli Studies will also host a special international conference on the Arch of Titus on October 29, 2017.
Built circa 82 C.E., the Arch of Titus preserves sculptural reliefs that depict the sacred vessels of the Jerusalem Temple being carried into Rome by conquering Roman soldiers, including a seven-branched Menorah, which has been the emblem of the State of Israel since 1949.
“This history, where a symbol of defeat transforms into a symbol of victory is especially relevant in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, where symbols of a dark history have galvanized people to assert the primacy of values that are more inclusive and compassionate” ,” said Dr. Steven Fine, Churgin Professor of Jewish History and director of the Center for Israel Studies.
The exhibition will feature a digitally carved life-size replica of the Spoils of Jerusalem relief from the Arch, which will be projected with reconstructions of the missing sculptures and color of the original reliefs, based on the original polychromy discovered in 2012 by YU’s Arch of Titus Project. It will also bring together rare artifacts from collections in Italy, Israel and the United States to illuminate this long history, including a postcard of the Arch written in 1913 by Sigmund Freud, inscribed: “The Jew Survives it.”
Installation of the Arch of Titus facsimile
“Though we tend to see the Arch of Titus and other such ancient monuments in immutable terms, this exhibition reveals and reflects on the dynamic ways the Arch has been physically and symbolically transformed over the ages,” said Dr. Jacob Wisse, director of Yeshiva University Museum. “The exhibition isn’t just about history but about making connections to Jewish culture and tradition today.”
Composite OrderComposite order column
The Composite order is mixed, the capital is the combination of the Ionic order and the Corinthian order. This order is essentially treated as the former one except for the capital, with no consistent differences to that above or below the capital.
In many versions, there is generally some ornament placed centrally between the volutes. The column is ten diameters high, though as with all the orders these details may be adjusted by the architect for particular buildings.
Five roman orders
The Composite order is not found in ancient Greek architecture and until the Renaissance was not ranked as a separate order. It was considered as an imperial Roman form of the Corinthian order. The Arch of Titus, in the forum in Rome, is sometimes cited as the first prominent surviving example of composite order, that was probably invented before Augustus’s reign and certainly developed before his death.
It was added by Renaissance writers to make five classical orders. Sebastiano Serlio was the first one in his book “I Sette Libri d’Architettura”, to mention it as an own order and not just as an evolution of the Corinthian order as previously.
Palazzo del Capitaniato in Vicenza.
Composite Style Features
This style has the following characteristics:
- Tall and slendercolumns (10 diameters high) that can outline column design or materials
- Capitals with acanthus leaves with big scrolls its entablature shows an ostentatiously sculpted frieze and cornice
- The volutes of the Composite capital were adapted from Phoenician and Egyptian capital designs. They are large and some ornament is generally placed between the volutes
- Entablatures are the tallest of all the orders (2 diameters high) From the bottom to the top, it presents: the architrave, the frieze and the cornice.
- Composite decoration reflects a sense of triumph it was used to represent victory, prestige, opulence and success
Composite Order Later in History
Palazzo Madama in Turin is a large historic building, which owes its name to the resident widows of the 17th century dukes of Savoy. It was also used by the Italian Senate. Today it houses the Museum of Ancient Arts. Despite its name, it is a large collection of paintings, statues and church ornaments.
Palazzo Madama, Turin- inside
Another wonderful example that needs to be considered is the facade of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Borromini received the commission in 1634 from Cardinal Barberini. However the building project suffered various financial difficulties, it is one of at least three churches in Rome dedicated to San Carlo.
Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane by Francesco Borromini
The Lescot Wing in the courtyard of the Louvre palace (Paris, France) is the oldest part of the existing complex. The Wing was executed between by the architect Pierre Lescot. Strongly tinged with Italian Mannerism, it became the Parisian Renaissance style.