Today holds two milestones in the realms of Parisian history, both of which are held in such high regards they are both thought of as national treasures and they both have a portion of their history that crosses paths The Arc de Triomphe and Victor Hugo.
211 years ago today, February 26, 1806Emperor Napoleon decreed that the Arc de Triomphe would be built in Paris after his victory in Austerlitz, he wanted a grand arch dedicated to his military achievements, because he was of course, Napoleon. It took over two years for the first stone to be laid and construction to be started. In 1810 after the marriage of his second wife. Marie-Louise of Austria he had a wooden replica built from the original plans and as he and his new bride entered onto the Champs Elysees they passed under Arc to much fan fair. Sadly he never saw it once it was completed in 1836, for he had been exiled by that point out of France. But in fitting fashion when his King of France Louis-Philippe I was in power he decreed that Napoleon return to France for a proper burial. And on 15 December 1840 Napoleon made his way again into Paris and this time under the completed Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees and to his final resting place at Les Invalides.
- Also on this day the great French poet, author and statesmen Victor Hugo was born. In 1802 in Besancon France, Victor Marie Hugo was born in Eastern France. Outside of France he is mostly recognized as the author of Les Misérables and the Hunchback of Notre-Dame but in Paris and France his an icon that is still as relevant today as he was when he was alive. His novel Hunchback of Notre-Dame saved the church from demolition and for that we should be eternally grateful and Les Misérables has been on the stage and screen many times over the years. But it was his voice regarding political and social issues that also add to his legacy. A supporter of the royalist party when he was younger he moved away and against all they stood for and began a fight for those who didn't have a voice. In 1849 he made a series of speeches asking for the end of poverty and to supply free education to all and to end the death penalty. Upon the election of Napoleon III as Emperor of France in 1851 he declared him a traitor of France and moved to Brussels and was later exiled from Jersey until 1870 when he finally returned to his beloved country.
On 22 May 1885 Victor Hugo died of pneumonia at the age of 83 into what became a national day of mourning, not only for his amazing works of literature but also for everything he did to define the Third republic and life in France. He was paraded through Paris and rested overnight under the grand arch of the Arc de Triomphe for all to pay their respects. More than a few million people followed the procession from the Arc de Triomphe to his final resting place at the Pantheon where only those held in the highest regards in France are laid to rest.
The Arc de Triomphe has been the focal point of many historic moments in Paris. From Napoleon, to Victor Hugo, to the famous walk of Charles de Gaulle, Hitler driving around and admiring it and you can't forget the final stop of the Tour de France. A parade every year on Bastille Day as well as Armistice day which I was lucky enough to see last year and the beautiful giant tri-color flag hanging in the center of the historic arch.