The Place du Carrousel, located near where the Palais des Tuileries once stood, can be an overwhelming experience for those visiting today. Vendors on all sides sell Eiffel Tower trinkets, bottles of water, and the priceless experience of being swarmed by dozens of pigeons. However, the immense, beautiful architecture of the Louvre all around can easily distract from a seemingly unassuming monument in the center. At first glance, it seems like a miniature of the Arc de Triomphe – the massive monument erected at the end of the Champs-Elysees during Napoleon’s reign – but it’s instead the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and it’s quite different.
Though both monuments were erected during the First Empire, and both celebrate Napoleon’s military victories, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was constructed first and praises specific military victories of the early 1800’s. Designed by the architects Charles Percier and Pierre François Fontaine, the arch is 63 feet high and covered with historically significant sculpture (“Arc de Triomphe Du Carrousel”). It is part of the “Grand Axis” of Paris, lining up with the Grande Arch de la Defense, the Arc de Triomphe at l’Etoile, the Obélisque de Luxor in the Place de la Concorde, and the Louvre (Phillips).
This arch was directly inspired by the victory arches of the Roman Empire, and ties Napoleon’s empire to the Romans in a number of ways beyond this. On the top of the arch, while facing Concorde, one can see the arms of the French Empire on the left and the arms of the Kingdom of Italy on the right (“Arc de Triomphe Du Carrousel”). This deliberate duality between the two attempts to forge an integral bond between the French Empire and the Roman Empire, as Napoleon’s exploits had recently delved deep into Italy. Additionally, the pink columns of the structure are marble (another symbol of antiquity), and are in the Corinthian style, an allusion to the ancient city-state of Greece. All of these ties to classical Europe seek to mold Napoleon’s victories – what was then very recent history – into a continuation of the legacy of Rome, showering the French Empire in prestige.
On top of the arch rest four bronze horses, the Horses of St. Mark stolen from Venice and only returned after World War II – a symbol of the pillaging and theft that allowed Napoleon’s regime to prosper in the wake of conquering the continent (Phillips). Other symbols of this conquest adorn the arch elsewhere, depicting Napoleon’s military and diplomatic victories such as the Peace of Pressburg, the surrender of Ulm, and the Tilsit Conference, as well as his entrance into Vienna (“Arc de Triomphe Du Carrousel”). These depictions further attempt to cement his triumphs into a legacy literally carved in stone, and prematurely ascribe historical significance to what were recent events as a form of early propaganda.