There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Friday, 29 June 2018

A Collection of Arcs de Triomphe (none of them in Paris)

Originally published on April 1st 2014, as ‘Four Arcs de Triomphe (none of them in Paris), I have updated this post to include arches I have encountered since. I hope to further update it as and when I encounter more.

It is not always easy to decide what is or is not a Triumphal Arch. I have not included monumental gates; the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and London’s Marble Arch (original intended as a gate for Buckingham Palace) are not Triumphal Arches. Triumphal Arches celebrate victory - they do not commemorate the dead and they are not war memorials. I have thus reluctantly removed Lutyen’s India Gate, despite including it in the original post, not because it is a gate (it isn’t) but because it was built as a memorial to the 90,000 Indians who died serving the British Empire in the First World War.

All these arches owe a debt to the Parisian Arch, because it was the first modern Arc de Triomphe; but it was not, of course, the original. Like so much in Europe, Triumphal Arches are a Roman idea.

We visited Libya in 2006, the home of two well preserved/restored Roman arches. The Arch of Marcus Aurelius in Tripoli was built in 165AD to commemorate the victory of his adopted brother, Lucius Verus, over the Parthians. It seems a thin excuse for building an arch so far away from the events, but perhaps Marcus felt in need of a monument.

The Arch of Marcus Aurelius, Tripoli
The ruins of Leptis Magna lie 130km to the East. Septimius Severus, Rome’s only African emperor, was born here in 145AD. He became emperor in 193 and ruled until he fell ill attempting to conquer Caledonia and died in York in 211. He is honoured by an arch in Rome commemorating his victory over the Parthians (it seems Lucius Verus failed to finish them off) and this one in his home town.

The Arch of Septimius Severus, Leptis Magna
After the Romans, triumphal arches went out of fashion until the days of Napoleon who rather fancied himself as a latter day Roman emperor. The wonderfully camp statue below is in Bastia the capital of northern Corsica. Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, the capital of southern Corsica – is it possible that Bastia was taking the mickey out of their rival’s favourite son?
Napoleon in a toga, Bastia
Planning the Paris Arc de Triomphe started in 1806 but it was not completed until 1836 by which time some of the shine had come off Napoleon’s triumphs. That did not deter the Parisians, nor indeed many others, as where Paris led the rest followed. St Petersburg has one (1829), as do New York (1892) and Mexico City (1938). London hopped on the bandwagon early - the Wellington Arch in Green Park dates from 1826 - though before I began researching triumphal arches I had never heard of it.

So, in order of construction....

The Arch of Bender. Built 1807, 27th June 2018 (Full story coming soon)

Bender (or Bendery, sometimes Tighina) is a city on the right bank of the River Dniester in the unrecognised Republic of Transnistria. It was on the front line in many of the wars between the Russian and Ottoman Empires, its fortress being taken by the Russians in 1779, 1789 and 1806. The arch commemorates the 1806 Russian victory and is contemporary with the Parisian Arch though it was finished much more quickly (and not just because it is smaller). The Russian-Turkish Wars continued, on and off, until 1918, but the fighting had moved away from Bender.

The Arch of Bender
Arcul de Triumf, Chişinău. Built 1841 24th June 2018

The modest capital of Moldova has an appropriately modest triumphal Arch, 13m high and sporting a clock that would not look out of place on a railway station.

Arcul de Triumf
Designed by Luca Zauşkevici it commemorates the Russian victory in the 1828-9 version of the Russian-Turkish fixture. It was built to house a 6.4t bell made from melted down Ottoman cannons originally intended for cathedral bell tower (the predecessor of the one in this picture), but would not fit. It strikes the hour with a rather unmusical ‘dunk’.

Arc de Tromf, Barcelona. Built 1888 29th March 2008

A whimsical piece of modernista architecture with Islamic-style brickwork, Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf was designed by Josep Vilaseca and built in 1888 as the entrance to the Barcelona World Fair.

Arc de Triomf, Barcelona
The arch represents no military triumph, real or imagined, and the sculpture on the front frieze is called Barcelona rep les nacions (Barcelona welcomes the nations). Perhaps it should not be included but it feels an altogether healthier expression of national (in this case Catalan) pride than any of the other Arches de Triomphe.

Monumento a la Revolución, Mexico City Built 1936 18th November 2011

Intended as a neo-classical home for the Federal Legislative Palace, building started in 1910 but was halted two years later by the revolution. In 1938 the completed first stage was adapted as a monument to the revolution that halted the building and it now contains the tombs of five revolutionary heroes including Pancho Villa.

Monument a la Revolucion, Mexico City
Transforming the core of a parliament building into a triumphal arch altered the neo-classical intention into something that has been described as Mexican socialist realism. Whatever the label, I think it’s ugly (sorry Mexico). At 75m high it is the world’s highest triumphal arch, but please don’t tell Kim Jong Un, he would only make his bigger

Patouxai, Vientiane. Built 1957-68 1st of March 2014

Ironically, this Arc de Triomphe was built to commemorate triumph over the French. Laos gained its independence in 1954 after the first Indo-China War and Patouxi (Victory Arch) was built in the late 1950s. Less reverently it is known as ‘The Vertical Runway’ as there is a story that it was built from concrete donated by the Americans for airport construction.

Patouxai (Victory Arch), Vientiane
There are stairs inside and shops at three levels. From the top there is a good view over the gardens below one way and down Lan Xang Avenue – Vientiane’s Champs Elysées the other.

The Arch of Triumph, Pyongyang.  Built 1982 9thSeptember 2013

North Korea’s Arch of Triumph, in Triumphant Return Square, commemorates Kim Il Sung's return to the capital (in 1948) and his founding of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea  after almost single-handedly driving the Japanese colonialists from his country (DPRK history avoids mentioning the global conflict and ignores contributions made by other combatants, including the Chinese, British and the hated Americans).

It was built in 1982 to celebrate his 70th birthday and is is blatant rip off of the French ‘original’. Two interesting details are that a) it is 10m taller than the Parisian Arch and b) that fact was the first thing we were told when we arrived in the square. Delusions of grandeur and a chip on the shoulder are the most obvious attributes of Kim Il Sung and the dynasty he founded.
Arch of Triumph, Pyongyang
Pyongyang’s sparse traffic means that it is perfectly safe to stand in the middle of the ‘Champs Elysées’ to take a photograph.

Porta Macedonia, Skopje. Built 2011 27th May 2015

The Porta Macedonia was designed by Valentina Stefanovska as part of the then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s ‘Skopje 2014’ project which saddled the capital with a series of grandiose monuments at great expense. Despite its name it is not a gate, nor is it a war memorial, but the design is classic Triumphal Arch, so that is what it must be, though apart from commemorating 20 years of Macedonian independence it is unclear what the ‘triumph’ was.

Porta Macedonia
I am unconvinced that spending €4.4m on a triumphal arch was the best use of money, which is not overabundant in Skopje. Gruevski was prime minister from 2006 until forced to resign in 2016. In May 2018 he started a two years prison sentence for corruption.

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