HÔTEL NATIONAL DES INVALIDES PARIS
French Army Museum and Napoleon’s Tomb
The Emperor Napoleon was a small man but a giant figure in French and indeed world history and befitting that curious contradiction his final resting place in the Dome Church of the “Invalides” in Paris is the giant sarcophagus of imperial colored, red Finnish porphyry stone, carved in simple majestic scrollwork from a single block. A little man buried in a big, big box. In fact five boxes within boxes, like a Russian Matruska doll, successive coffins within coffins of tin, mahogony, lead and ebony, set in a glorifying rotunda of white marble. Napoleon returned once from exile in 1815 (see Route Napoleon) and one wonders if his weighty resting place is meant to keep him from returning again.
The National Hotel of the Invalids (Hôtel des Invalides) If you don't know your French, hotel here means hospital, and still houses a military convalescence, is a magnificent structure in the heart of Paris, south of the Seine, across the beautiful Pont Alexandre III bridge from the Grand Palais. Begun in 1671 under Louis XIV and originally completed in 1674 as a veterans home (hence "hotel") for the soldiers who had fought in Louis’ wars (see Castle Brancion). The Dome Church was added by 1706 along with a smaller Soldier’s Church the Saint Louis Chapel. By the end of the 17th Century the Invalides housed almost 4,000 pensioner veterans and many of its later inhabitants were veterans of Napoleon’s wars. It wasn’t until 1840 that it was decided to move the famed Emperor to the Dome Church from his original burial place on the Island of St. Helena. Surrounding the Emperor’s huge burial sarcophogus of which it is truly difficult to get the scale from photographs, the Dome Church (Eglise du Dôme), beautifully baroque itself, displays a collection of Napoleon memorabilia and iconography. His most famous coat and hat stand inside a glass box as if waiting for his return. The Austerlitz Sword, statues and a series of paintings depicting his military victories and the brilliant little soldier’s rise to near god-like imperial grandiosity. The tombs of later military heroes of France were added over time since space seemed by available in the grand anti-chambers.
The Invalides today is still an official French Army facility, a convalescense home for veterans, but much of the 17th Century city within a city is taken up by the French National Army Museum. The upper and lower wings of the Invalides contain some of the most spectacular examples of arms, armor and art of 500 years of warfare. The Crown Collections Room is decorated in muruals and houses royal collection of ornate weapons from princely arms munfacturers. The Medieval Room has an incredible collection of swords, armor and weapons from the 13th to 15th Centuries. The Hunting, Jousting and Tournament Room has magnificently ornate armored knights mounted on hugh armored steeds as if ready to charge in the lists. The Louis XIII Room has military weapons and firearms in the age of gunpowder from the 16th and 17th Centuries along with arms connected to historical figures from France and the Ottoman Empire. An Oriental Room and European Room display the finest examples from master armorers.
The Western Wing of the Invalides houses a history of modern warfare from the two successive World Wars I and II, centered much on France which Charles DeGaulle referred to as the “modern thirty years war”. The Two World Wars department is divided into several rooms depicting the different periods of this world shaping conflict. The Salle Alsace-Lorraine covers the defeat of 1871 from which the Army of the Third Republic rose toward the growing tension before WWI from Foch to Dreyfus. The Salle Joffre depicts the 1914 beginnings of the quick “war to end all wars” (not the last war that was supposed to end quickly). The Salle de Poilus covers the long trench warfare period amking us wonder if we'll ever learn. Other rooms follow successive periods from the end of WWI to WWII and its periods of the “phoney war” the black and gray years of the early 1940’s to the “years of light” with the invasion and liberation from 1944 to 1945. There are weapons and artifacts in these displays, but are as much or more focused on graphic and multimedia exhibits telling the French national story.
A single ticket purchased in the souvenir shop gives entrance to both the Army Museum and Napoleon’s Tomb for about €8. Youth under 18 are free. The Museum is open everyday except the first Monday of each month and four national holidays. The Invalides is near the Musee D’Orsay and the Rodin Museum (see Rodin Musee) is across the street. Metro and RER stops are Invalides and Varenne. The Eiffel Tower and Seine River Cruise boats are a few longish blocks walk away as well. © Bargain Travel Europe
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