Les Invalides commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides is a complex of buildings situated within the 7th arrondissement of Paris.
The name Hôtel national des Invalides translates The National Residence of the Invalids.
The complex containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose.
The Hôtel des Ivalides was commissioned in 1670 by Louis XIV in order to provide accommodation and hospital care for wounded soldiers.
Constructed from 1671 to 1676 by Libéral Bruant, then by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte, it is one the most prestigious monuments in Paris.
The river front measured 196 meters (643 feet) and the complex had fifteen courtyards, the largest being the cour d’honneur (“court of honour”) for military parades.
In 1815, after Napoleon’s abdication, over 5,000 survivors of the Great Army were listed there. Napoleon inspected the place and visited his men in 1808, 1813 and 1815. [Image below: Napoleon I
visiting the infirmary of Les Invalides]
The complex operated as a hospital and retirement home for French war veterans up until the early 20th century.
By the early 1900s the dwindling number of veterans led to the building being deemed too large for its purpose. The remaining veterans were transferred to other facilities in Paris and this paved the way for the museums to open in place of the hospital.
The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.
Some of the most notable points of interest within the complex include the Musée de l’Armée, Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine and the Tomb of Napoleon I.
The Musée de l’Armée or the Military Museum of the Army of France was created in 1905 just after the World Fair and is the result of the merger of the Musée d’Artillerie, opened in 1796, and the old Musée de l’Armée created 100 years later. It extends over 8,000 square meters (86,100 square feet) and is made up of a museum and two churches with some 500,000 objects. This makes it the largest museum of military history in France, and one of the leading ones in the world.
The Musée des Plans-Reliefs or the Museum of Military Models is a part of the Army Museum and showcases about 100 three-dimensional models of fortified cities dating from 1668 to 1870. The models were originally built and used for military purposes, and provide a fascinating glimpse into this little known aspect of military history.
The Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine or the Museum of Contemporary History houses over one million items in its collection, spanning from 1870 to the modern day. The museum focuses primarily on social and political issues relating to both French and world history.
The Dôme des Invalides, which contains Napoleon I’s tomb, is the emblem of the Hôtel National des Invalides and an unmissable monument in the Parisian landscape.
Because the King could not be in the same church as war veterans, 17th century architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart built a church that would be divided in two: the royal chapel and the veteran’s chapel, still used as a church today.
The interior of the dôme, 107 metres (351 feet) high, was painted by Le Brun’s disciple Charles de La Fosse with a Baroque illusion of space seen from below. The painting was completed in 1705.
Known as the Temple de Mars during the Revolution, the Dôme Church became a military pantheon during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, with the installation of the Turenne tomb (1800) and a funeral monument to Vauban (1807-1808).
The dôme was designated to become Napoleon’s funeral place in a law dated 10 June 1840. The excavation and erection of the crypt, that heavily modified the interior of the domed church, took twenty years to complete and was finished in 1861.
The Tomb of Napoleon pays tribute to his many military conquests in the form of marble bas-reliefs and Victory statues. At the center of the tomb lies Napoleon’s ornate sarcophagus carved from red stone.
Nowadays, alongside Napoleon I’s tomb, the Dôme contains the graves of his son, l’Aiglon, the King of Rome, his brothers Joseph and Jérôme Bonaparte, the Generals Bertrand and Duroc, and the two famous marshals of the first half of the 20th century, Foch and Lyautey.
In 1989 the dome was given a new coat of gold leaf for the bicentenary of the French Revolution (requiring 12 kilograms or 26.5 pounds of gold). It was the fifth time it has been restored since it was created.
Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history.
On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the Bastille later the same day.
At the turn of the 19th century, Napoleon used it for many official ceremonies, saving Les Invalides from destruction.
Napoleon was entombed under the dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840.
Some historians say that it is not Napoleon’s body that rests in the tomb, as historical facts do not concur: his body was in perfect condition when unearthed 19 years after his death.