Les Invalides: Napoleon’s Spectacular Tomb and French Army Museum
Les Invalides, also known as the Hotel Nationale des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids), is a complex housing museums and monuments about the military history of France in a former hospital and retirement home for veterans. The original structure was completed in 1676 as a home and hospital for retired and wounded veterans. Les Invalides continued to serve soldiers until the early 20th century when the veterans were dispersed into smaller facilities and military history museums were installed. Today, Les Invalides houses the fascinating Museum of the Armies of France, a museum of military models, and a museum of contemporary French history. However, the main reason most people visit Les Invalides is to see the magnificent tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. The French emperor is buried underneath the spectacular dome of the Cathedral of St.-Louis des Invalides. Members of Napoleon’s family, generals who served under him, and other heroes of French military history are also buried in the church and its crypt. Even if you’re not as interested in Napoleonic history as I am, you should visit the cathedral just to see the breathtaking architecture. The magnificent Dome des Invalides rises above the tomb of Napoleon. The dome is 351 feet (107 meters), making it one of the tallest monuments in the city of Paris. Inside the dome, the Baroque painting, by Charles de La Fosse, creates an illusion of a three-dimensional space, which is, in this case, the heavens. In the scene, you can see an angel holding a crown of triumph. Along one side of the dome, St. Louis (King Louis IX of France, who was canonized by the Catholic Church) hands a sword to Jesus Christ, who points towards the sky and is accompanied by the Virgin Mary. All of these symbols of triumph are clearly meant to celebrate the victories of Napoleon, who lays entombed below.
After your visit to the church, meander through the intriguing galleries of the Army Museum which cover French military history from the Middle Ages through World War II. Some of the highlights for me were the sword of the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped the United States of America win independence, Napoleon’s stuffed horse, campaign tent and gear, and one of his famous bicorne hats, and the exhibit on World War II, including tanks, planes, and an enigma machine, which was used to crack the Nazi codes. A visit to Les Invalides is a must for any architecture or history buff. Best of all, if you have purchased a Paris Museum Pass, both the cathedral and tombs are covered.
Location of Les Invalides
The Hotel des Invalides, which includes Napoleon’s tomb and the Museum of the Armies of France, is located at the Places des Invalides in Paris. The closest Metro stops are Ecole Militaire or Varenne. Click on the map below for specific directions.
Consider visiting Les Invalides during the day and then seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night in the nearby Place du Trocadero. For more information about seeing the Eiffel Tower during the day and at night, see my post “The Eiffel Tower: Avoiding Lines, Viewing Levels, and Seeing It at Night”.