Today, Aug. 31, 2014, marks the 17th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, who passed away in the City of Light.
Diana died from the injuries she sustained in a horrific car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel alongside the Seine River on the Right Bank. Diana, her boyfriend at the time, Dodi Fayed, and the driver of her car, Henri Paul, were killed when Paul (who was later found to be intoxicated) lost control of the vehicle while trying to elude paparazzi. The car slammed into the concrete structures of the tunnel at approximately 60 miles per hours.
Fayed and Paul died on the scene; Diana died at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital about two and a half hours after the accident.
Mourners in Paris pay homage to the Princess at Paris’s Flame of Liberty, a gold-leaf replica of the torch held by New York City’s Statue of Liberty located on the Place de l’Alma, a spot located atop the entrance to the tunnel that was the site of the fatal car accident.
Although the Flame of Liberty officially has nothing to do with the Diana’s death, it remains an impromptu memorial to the Princess to this day.
The statue was given to the city in 1989 by the International Herald Tribune (the global edition of The New York Times, which was renamed in October 2013 as The International New York Times) to mark the 100th anniversary of the American newspaper’s publication in the city.
More broadly, though, the flame symbolizes the continuing friendship between France and the United States, which was forged nearly 250 years ago when the French provided vital funding to the American colonies during the U.S. Revolutionary War.
That special relationship was honored by the French with their gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States in the late 1800s.
The Parisian monument on the Place de l’Alma was dedicated on May 10, 1989, by French President Jacques Chirac.
After Diana’s death, however, Parisians and visitors alike flocked to the Place de l’Alma to pay respects to the deceased princess and to “see” the site where she lost her life (although, truthfully, one can only see the entrance/exit to the tunnel and not the spot where her chauffeured car slammed into one of its support columns). Many left bouquets of flowers and personal notes to the Princess at the base of the Flame of Liberty, while others scrawled messages on the adjacent sidewalk and the marble ledge of the bridge atop the tunnel’s entrance.
Today, 17 years since Diana’s death, visitors to Paris still leave flowers and notes to the princess.
The Flame of Liberty is now so closely linked with the Princess of Wales that many visitors and locals incorrectly refer to the site as the “Diana Memorial.” Some even mistakenly believe that the flame-shaped monument represents the song Elton John (a close friend of the Princess) sang and dedicated to Diana at her funeral, a rewritten version of John’s hit recording “Candle in the Wind” originally penned to honor the late Marilyn Monore. (The lyrics of the rewritten song begin, “Goodbye, England’s rose …”)
“Just like the people turned Diana into a saint, they turned the flame into her memorial. Most people who come here think this was built for her,” Guy Lesoeurs, author of the book Diana of the Alma Bridge-The Pilgrims of the Flame, told The New York Times.
If you plan to visit the monument to pay your respects to Diana today or any other time, please limit your tokens of mourning and affection to bouquets of flowers placed at the base of the torch statue. Although the marble railings above the tunnel etnrace are filled with signed notes of remembrance for Diana (and for Michael Jackson as well), defacing Parisian public property is illegal and could result in criminal charges, so don’t be tempted to leave your own written message.
Flame of Liberty/Ad Hoc Diana Memorial
Pleace de l’Alma