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Paris Day 4 - Axe Historique, Champs Elysee & Arc de Triomph

A Personal Architectural Analysis of the Historical Axis

sunny 9 °C

Well, nobody could really consider they have visited Paris without taking a stroll down Avenue des Champs-Élysées [1]. This is another sight that warrants a revisit. While I don't look forwards to the luxury shops, I can look forward to the sight of Arc de Triomphe at the end of the walk.

Native American performing in Place de la Concorde, Paris
Native American traditional band performing in Place de la Concorde
Busking is common in Paris, especially in the metro in the less busy hours of the evenings

General Charles de Gaulle statue on Champs Elysee
General Charles de Gaulle statue marching
into Champs Elysee
We begun our walk from Place de la Concorde, which is the start of Champs-Élysées, which in turns is part of the Axe Historique (Historical Axis).

The Axe Historique (Historical Axis) is actually made up of 2 parts or axes. The old axis is very familiar to most tourists. It consists of Avenue des Champs-Elysées with Arc de Triomphe as its lynchpin. It starts at the Louvre and finishes at Palais des congrès. The new axis is made up of Esplanade du Général de Gaulle and L'Avenue Charles-de-Gaulle and ends in Palais des congrès with La Grande Arche as its fulcrum.

This 2 axes symbolise the old and new on 3 levels.
1. The old axis is represented by street with ancient Greek name (Champs-Elysées) while the new axis is represented by street with new name (Charles-de-Gaulle ).
2. The old axis locates wholely in the old Paris while the new axis locates just outside the old Paris in the new business district of La Défense.
3. Lastly, the centres of the 2 axes are marked by old and new arches respectively.

While the 2 arches represent the 2 centres of the old and new axes, together they form the 2 foci of the combined single Histoical Axis.

Palais des congrès is - by default - the centre of the combined Histroical Axis of old and new axes, and it locates just right at the boundary of Paris (DB Peripherique), the very edge of old and new Paris.

View towards the Grand Arch from atop of Arc de Triomphe
View of Avenue Charles de Gaulle towards the Grand Arch from atop of Arc de Triomphe.

View towards the Grand Arch from atop of Arc de Triomphe
Close-up view towards the Grand Arch from atop of Arc de Triomphe.
(Open any photo in new tab for a larger view)

I visited La Défense in Day 1, thus complete my trip to both axes. You can read my diary of that trip here.

It's interesting to do a little comparison between the Beijing and Paris famous axes. While Paris' Historical Axis runs along SE to NW compass points, The Beijing's (Purple) Forbidden City aligns itself along the north-south axis.

Also, while Beijing NS-Axis is based on celestial or astrological principles, the Paris Historical Axis is very much grounded on historical and geographical principles. It's designed to provide a continuous vista from one end of the Axis to another. Of course, they both have strong symbolic significance.

The Arc de Triomphe is the geographical centre of the old Axis, which extends from Tuileries Gardens to Palais des congrès. You could say the new Axis had been extended from Palais des Congrès in Porte Maillot to the Grand Arch in La Défense (and beyond) in 1978 to commemorate the Bicentenary of the French Revolution.

Something similar also occurred to Beijing city when the important Olympic venues like the Bird Nest and Water Cube were added on either side of the Beijing NS-Axis further north of the Forbidden City as a modern extension of their NS-Axis.

The central idea of the Axis in Paris is that the 2 arches, one modern and one old, are standing vis-à-vis across the old Paris, and the new Paris district of La Défense, symbolising the separation of 2 centuries. In order words, the 2 historical time periods are represented by the 2 geographical landmarks.

This use of space to represent time (and vice versa) isn't unusual. For example, the term 'light years' is used to represent distance. This materialisation of time into space, history into geography, is realised via the linking the 2 arches of the 2 time periods at the 2 foci of the Axis.

This Axis therefore represents the continuity of the 2 eras. Because they're standing vis-à-vis at the 2 foci of the Axis, it's crucial that the 2 arches has an uninterrupted line of sight to embody this idea of continuity.

In order to achieve the uninterrupted line of sight, one has to make sure that nothing stands between the 2 arches. This is no problem between Arc de Triomphe and Esplanade de la Défense metro station because there's nothing in between but Avenue Charles de Gaulle and subway as seen by the photo below.


Well, nobody could really consider they have visited Paris without taking a stroll down Avenue des Champs-Élysées [1]. This is another sight that warrants a revisit. While I don't look forwards to the luxury shops, I can look forward to the sight of Arc de Triomphe at the end of the walk.

Native American performing in Place de la Concorde, Paris
Native American traditional band performing in Place de la Concorde
Busking is common in Paris, especially in the metro in the less busy hours of the evenings

General Charles de Gaulle statue on Champs Elysee
General Charles de Gaulle statue marching
into Champs Elysee
We begun our walk from Place de la Concorde, which is the start of Champs-Élysées, which in turns is part of the Axe Historique (Historical Axis).

The Axe Historique (Historical Axis) is actually made up of 2 parts or axes. The old axis is very familiar to most tourists. It consists of Avenue des Champs-Elysées with Arc de Triomphe as its lynchpin. It starts at the Louvre and finishes at Palais des congrès. The new axis is made up of Esplanade du Général de Gaulle and L'Avenue Charles-de-Gaulle and ends in Palais des congrès with La Grande Arche as its fulcrum.

This 2 axes symbolise the old and new on 3 levels.
1. The old axis is represented by street with ancient Greek name (Champs-Elysées) while the new axis is represented by street with new name (Charles-de-Gaulle ).
2. The old axis locates wholely in the old Paris while the new axis locates just outside the old Paris in the new business district of La Défense.
3. Lastly, the centres of the 2 axes are marked by old and new arches respectively.

While the 2 arches represent the 2 centres of the old and new axes, together they form the 2 foci of the combined single Histoical Axis.

Palais des congrès is - by default - the centre of the combined Histroical Axis of old and new axes, and it locates just right at the boundary of Paris (DB Peripherique), the very edge of old and new Paris.

View towards the Grand Arch from atop of Arc de Triomphe
View of Avenue Charles de Gaulle towards the Grand Arch from atop of Arc de Triomphe.

View towards the Grand Arch from atop of Arc de Triomphe
Close-up view towards the Grand Arch from atop of Arc de Triomphe.
(Open any photo in new tab for a larger view)

I visited La Défense in Day 1, thus complete my trip to both axes. You can read my diary of that trip here.

It's interesting to do a little comparison between the Beijing and Paris famous axes. While Paris' Historical Axis runs along SE to NW compass points, The Beijing's (Purple) Forbidden City aligns itself along the north-south axis.

Also, while Beijing NS-Axis is based on celestial or astrological principles, the Paris Historical Axis is very much grounded on historical and geographical principles. It's designed to provide a continuous vista from one end of the Axis to another. Of course, they both have strong symbolic significance.

The Arc de Triomphe is the geographical centre of the old Axis, which extends from Tuileries Gardens to Palais des congrès. You could say the new Axis had been extended from Palais des Congrès in Porte Maillot to the Grand Arch in La Défense (and beyond) in 1978 to commemorate the Bicentenary of the French Revolution.

Something similar also occurred to Beijing city when the important Olympic venues like the Bird Nest and Water Cube were added on either side of the Beijing NS-Axis further north of the Forbidden City as a modern extension of their NS-Axis.

The central idea of the Axis in Paris is that the 2 arches, one modern and one old, are standing vis-à-vis across the old Paris, and the new Paris district of La Défense, symbolising the separation of 2 centuries. In order words, the 2 historical time periods are represented by the 2 geographical landmarks.

This use of space to represent time (and vice versa) isn't unusual. For example, the term 'light years' is used to represent distance. This materialisation of time into space, history into geography, is realised via the linking the 2 arches of the 2 time periods at the 2 foci of the Axis.

This Axis therefore represents the continuity of the 2 eras. Because they're standing vis-à-vis at the 2 foci of the Axis, it's crucial that the 2 arches has an uninterrupted line of sight to embody this idea of continuity.

In order to achieve the uninterrupted line of sight, one has to make sure that nothing stands between the 2 arches. This is no problem between Arc de Triomphe and Esplanade de la Défense metro station because there's nothing in between but Avenue Charles de Gaulle and subway as seen by the photo below.

View towards Arch de Triomphe from Esplanade de la Defense Metro station
View towards Arc de Triomphe from Esplanade de la Défense Metro station
as the train emerges briefly from below Avenue Charles de Gaulle as it pulls into the station
(where I stood and took this photo)

But from here - the Esplanade de la Défense metro - to the Grand Arch isn't consisting of only road. This means structures and buildings could be placed here that would potentially block the centre line of sight between the 2 arches.

Roof of La defense metro's exit looking towards Grand Arch
Roof of La Defense metro's exit looking towards the Grand Arch

If you look at this photo. The foreground of the photo is a sloping glass and steel structure (click image for a larger view). This is the roof of the exit of La Défense metro. This roof structure has a 'notch', or gap. I thought this is rather odd the first time I came across it. In fact, it started me thinking. I thought to myself that I want to get to the bottom of this, and the result is this article.

To the casual passer-by, there's nothing significant about this gap in the roof structure. It's just a walkway. Only an architect (which I'm not) would pay attention (which I did) to this weird design of the metro roof, and asks "why put a walkway there"?

Looking from this angle, you don't see any association b
But from here - the Esplanade de la Défense metro - to the Grand Arch isn't consisting of only road. This means structures and buildings could be placed here that would potentially block the centre line of sight between the 2 arches.

Roof of La defense metro's exit looking towards Grand Arch
Roof of La Defense metro's exit looking towards the Grand Arch

If you look at this photo. The foreground of the photo is a sloping glass and steel structure (click image for a larger view). This is the roof of the exit of La Défense metro. This roof structure has a 'notch', or gap. I thought this is rather odd the first time I came across it. In fact, it started me thinking. I thought to myself that I want to get to the bottom of this, and the result is this article.

To the casual passer-by, there's nothing significant about this gap in the roof structure. It's just a walkway. Only an architect (which I'm not) would pay attention (which I did) to this weird design of the metro roof, and asks "why put a walkway there"?

Looking from this angle, you don't see any association b

Read the rest of the article here...

Posted by FrancisQ 22:28 Archived in France Tagged paris france unesco arc_de_triomphe champs_élysées axe_historique historical_axis grand_axis

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