When anti-government protests spiraled out of control in Paris earlier this month, demonstrators unleashed their rage on the Arc de Triomphe. The iconic monument was graffitied and ransacked, prompting French authorities to shut it down for repairs. As Anna Sansom reports for the Art Newspaper, the Arc de Triomphe is now set to reopen tomorrow—but hints of the damage it sustained still linger.
The “yellow vest” protests, so called for the garment donned by demonstrators, first erupted in France on November 17 and began as grassroots protests over a planned hike in fuel taxes. But the movement has since expanded to encompass a range of grievances, from dissent over education reforms to French President Emmanuel Macron’s perceived bias in favor of the wealthy. Protests have spread from working-class citizens in the French provinces to the heart of the country’s capital city. Over the past four weekends, thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets, some of them smashing windows, looting stores and setting cars on fire.
Commissioned in 1806 as a tribute to the military victories of Napoleon I, the Arc de Triomphe has been a “focal point” of the recent protests, according to the Agence France-Presse. On December 1, a crowd of demonstrators attacked the monument. They spray-painted it with slogans like “The yellow vests will win,” and “Macron resign.” They broke into a small museum inside the monument, smashing sculptures—including a statue of Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic—breaking into display cases, and looting commemorative medals and other objects. They stamped out the flame that burns on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which sits beneath the arch and honors those who died fighting for France in World War I.
The Arc de Triomphe was not the only site affected by the violent protests. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre shut down last Saturday amidst the riots, shops boarded up their windows to prevent looting and the tony Champs-Élysées avenue, which is crowned by the Arc de Triomphe, was littered with tear gas canisters. But it was the vandalization of France’s famed arch that seems to have hit a particularly painful nerve.
Ten different companies were involved in extensive repairs of the Arc de Triomphe, which involved powerwashing graffiti from the monument and making repairs to furniture in the museum gift shop. Police were able to recover some of the looted items from protestors who were arrested during the riot.
Artworks damaged during the attack are still undergoing repairs, among them a bust of Napoleon. The Napoleon Foundation, which preserves Napoleonic works, has loaned another bust to the Arc de Triomphe, to be displayed while the original is out for restoration.