Did you know that the India Gate in Delhi was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris?
Most of you must have heard or read in school that the India Gate was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens as part of his plan for New Delhi, or ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’. Commissioned to be built in 1921, it took nearly 10 years to be completed. The India Gate complex is hexagonal with a diameter of about 625m covers. Almost everyone who visits Delhi gets to see the India Gate either as part of a city tour or when they drive through one of the twelve city roads that radiate out from this complex. Click here to see how it looks on Google Maps. For those few who are new to the country, the India Gate is a national monument which commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the Indian Army who lost their lives fighting in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. The walls of the India Gate have been inscribed with the names of these martyred soldiers.
The Arc de Triomphe, on the other hand, was commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoleon at the zenith of his reign. However, it was not inaugurated until 1836. Many architects worked on the structure and construction was carried out intermittently during these thirty years. The Arc is located on the right bank of the river Seine, again, at the center of a twelve-sided configuration of radiating tree-lined avenues. Click here for the Google Maps image. One of these is the much renowned Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the hot-spot of high fashion and culture in Paris. It has lovely cafes, cinemas, expensive retail spaces, but that’s beside the point! So, the Arc de Triomphe which translates in English as the “Triumphal Arch” honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all the French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.
So you see, Lutyen did base the India Gate very closely on the lines of the Arc de Triomphe. But the similarity does not end here! Both memorials have beneath their arches, an eternal flame which marks the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The shrine under the India Gate is called the Amar Jawan Jyoti (the flame of the immortal soldier). It comprises a black marble cenotaph surmounted by a rifle standing on its barrel and crested by a soldier’s helmet. It was unveiled on India’s Republic Day, 26th January 1972, to honour the soldiers of the Indian Army who sacrificed their lives in the Indo-Pak War of December 1971. Beneath the Arc de Triomphe is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The eternal flame in this case was interred on Armistice Day, 11th November 1920. It burns in memory of the dead soldiers who were never identified in the two world wars. Both of these monuments are regarded as national treasures by their countrymen; they draw thousands of tourists every year and are just as popular with the local people.
And while I was visiting the India Gate and the Arc de Triomphe, and reading up about these inspiring arches, I chanced upon some new trivia… In its turn, the Arc de Triomphe is said to have been inspired by the Arch of Titus, a 1st-century arch located on Via Sacra, the main street of ancient Rome. It was constructed in 82 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate Titus’ victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Now, interestingly, the Arch of Titus seems to be very popular with architects, old and new. Apparently it has inspired many other monuments, a few among them being:
- Facade of the Basilica di Sant’Andrea di Mantova (1462) by Leon Battista Alberti in Mantua, Lombardy, Italy
- The National Memorial Arch (1910) at Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania, USA
- The Soldier’s and Sailor’s arch at Grand Army Plaza, in Brooklyn, New York, USA
- The arch at Washington Square Park, New York, USA
Now, that’s an interesting trail of inspirations, don’t you think?