Guide Tour of Les Invalides, Paris, France

Les Invalides (formally the Hôtel national des Invalides) is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, France, containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans. This immense architectural complex, designed by Libéral Bruand and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, is one of the most important masterpieces of French classical architecture.

The Hôtel des Invalides is a Parisian monument, the buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine. The complex also includes the former hospital chapel, now national cathedral of the French military, and the adjacent former Royal Chapel known as the Dôme des Invalides, the tallest church building in Paris at a height of 107 meters. The latter has been converted into a shrine of some of France’s leading military figures, most notably the tomb of Napoleon.

The construction of which was ordered by Louis XIV by the royal edict of February 24, 1670, to accommodate the invalids of its armies. King Louis XIV ordered the building of Les Invalides in recognition of the sacrifices made by the soldiers who fought in his wars. Most of the buildings for the care and housing of veterans were completed in five years (1671–76) by the architect Libéral Bruant. Remaining faithful to this mission, it also houses the Saint-Louis des Invalides cathedral, several museums and amilitary necropolis. It also brings together a number of organizations dedicated to the memory of veterans and the support of wounded soldiers.

As soon as enter the main courtyard, visitors can admire an artillery collection charting 200 years of history. During the French Revolution, on July 14, 1789, the revolutionary people that stormed theBastille prison used firearms and cannon that they had looted from the Hôtel des Invalides earlier that day. Now belonging to the exhibition collection managed by the Army Museum.

In the 19th century, the floor of the Dome Church was removed and the crypt converted into the tomb of Napoleon I. The tomb, with its red porphyry sarcophagus and five nested coffins, was designed by the Italian-born architect Louis-Tullius-Joachim Visconti and not completed until 1861. Also interred in the Dome Church are Napoleon’s son Napoleon II, his brothers Joseph and Jérôme Bonaparte, and several marshals and generals of the French army. The crypt of the soldiers’ chapel, called the Cave of Governors, holds the remains of other notables, including Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, author of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.”

Since 1905 Les Invalides has also housed the Army Museum, which holds a large collection of arms, armour, paintings, and decorations from all periods of French history up to the end of World War II. Two smaller collections on the same premises are the Museum of the Order of the Liberation, dedicated to France’s heroes of World War II, and the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, a collection of relief models, mostly of fortified cities, constructed between the 17th and 19th centuries as visual aids for military commanders.

Today, under the Ministry of Defence but also occupied by numerous organizations that are part of other ministries, the Hôtel National des Invalides still retains its original function as a hospital and hospice for badly injured and disabled war veterans. During the second half of the 20th century, the entire site of the Hôtel National des Invalides was opened up to the public after small buildings were knocked down and a ditch created around the site. In 1981, a huge restoration project was undertaken at the Hôtel National des Invalides under the instigation of an interdepartmental commission co-directed by the Ministries of Defence and Culture to restore this exceptional site to its former glory.

The golden dome of the Invalides is one of the landmarks of the Parisian landscape. On the north front of Les Invalides, Hardouin-Mansart’s Dome chapel is large enough to dominate the long façade, yet harmonizes with Bruant’s door under an arched pediment. To the north, the courtyard (cour d’honneur) is extended by a wide public esplanade (Esplanade des Invalides) where the embassies of Austria and Finland are neighbors of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all forming one of the grand open spaces in the heart of Paris. At its far end, the Pont Alexandre III links this grand urbanistic axis with the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais. The Pont des Invalides is next, downstream the Seine river.

The Dôme des Invalides remains as one of the prime exemplars of French Baroque architecture, at 107 metres high, and also as an iconic symbol of France’s absolute monarchy. The interior of the dome was painted by Le Brun’s disciple Charles de La Fosse with a Baroque illusionistic ceiling painting. The painting was completed in 1705. The church-and-chapel complex of the Invalides was designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart from 1676, taking inspiration from his great-uncle François Mansart’s design for a Chapelle des Bourbons to be built behind the chancel of the Basilica of Saint-Denis.

Meanwhile, Hardouin-Mansart assisted the aged Bruant on the chapel, which was finished to Bruant’s design after the latter’s death in 1697. This chapel is known as the church of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides. Daily attendance of the veterans in the church services was required. Shortly after the veterans’ chapel was started, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel, now known as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. The Dome chapel was finished in 1706.

Under Louis XIV, the Invalides were located in the open countryside, on the edge of the urban areas of the city of Paris at that time but outside, the buildings were thus surrounded by fields and meadows. Originally, the main entrance to the Invalides, at least the one that welcomed the king with great pomp, was located more to the south, at the level of the Royal Chapel (the dome), where a large forecourt with a colonnade was planned. for the reception of the king and the court coming from Versailles. Wide radiating paths lined with trees have therefore been traced to the south in the countryside.

With the expansion of the city of Paris in later periods, the Invalides found themselves in the heart of the city, and all this peripheral countryside is today very densely urbanized, urbanization has integrated these old layouts. The old alleys surrounding the Invalides and those leading to it therefore became important urban avenues and boulevards in what is now the seventh arrondissement: the avenue de Breteuil in particular, but also the avenue de Ségur, the avenue de Villars, the avenue de Tourville, the boulevard des Invalides, and theBoulevard de La Tour-Maubourg. Avenue de Lowendal was added later.

From the origin, the north forecourt of the hotel extended beyond the limits of the hotel to the north by a wide public esplanade to the Seine, which became the current esplanade des Invalides, along which are today the embassies of Austria and Finland, the Invalides station and the hotel of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Two cemented spaces at the northern ends serve as playgrounds for roller skaters. The Esplanade des Invalides is one of the great free spaces of construction inside Paris, just like the Champ-de-Mars and the Tuileries Garden. At the end of this esplanade, which hosted the Universal Exhibition of 1900, the Alexandre-III bridge was built over the Seine in the axis of the Hôtel des Invalides and its dome to highlight them in the perspective of a triumphal avenue, this bridge is considered the most luxurious in Paris, it leads across the Seine to the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais built along this axis.

The hotel has the mission of guarding the emblems and trophies of France. As such, cannons taken from the enemy are exhibited as trophies along the moat, facing the Esplanade des Invalides. Until the beginning of the 20th century, they fired salutes of honor which marked the great public festivities.

The Invalides dome
The general plan of the building, a Greek cross inscribed in a square plan. Each of the exterior facades is made up of two superimposed orders, underlined by a porch surmounted by a triangular pediment. It is crowned with a dome culminating at 90 meters surmounted by a lantern bringing the total height to 107 meters.

The dome is set on a high drum with two floors adorned with high windows. It is at this level that the very great “classic” rigor of the architecture evolves noticeably: the forms become more complicated the more one rises in height, from an architecture with a square structure on the ground surmounted by triangular pediments, one passes imperceptibly to complex forms where the curves dominate little by little while rising: drum, volutes, dome, oculi…

The first floor of the drum is surrounded by buttresses which support the double stone dome inside. These buttresses, inspired by those of Saint Peter’s in Rome, are interspersed with high windows with curved lintels, they are each adorned with two twin columns as for the between windows where there are no buttresses. These buttresses, eight in number, are not arranged regularly at the cardinal points of the building but grouped by two because of the location of the pillars on which they are placed which are located inside the building grouped by two at the four corners of the crossing, therefore at an angle to the external faces of the monument. Small typically Baroque scrolls complete these buttresses at the base of the second floor of the tambour, as at the Church of Our Lady of Val-de-Grâce and in the image of the Salute of Venice.

The cover dome itself, ovoid in shape, surrounded by fire pots, is made of a lead cover on a solid frame of oak wood. It consists of twelve gilded compartments decorated with trophies in which skylights are concealed. Finally, the roof dome is surmounted by a high, slender entirely gilded skylight which is reminiscent of Gothic forms. It is a square pavilion, placed at an angle to the facade, with corners decorated with columns on which statues are placed, it is surmounted by a slender obelisk ending in a cross. The construction of this dome was completed in 1708. It was gilded again in 1807, 1830, 1839, 1937 and for the last time in 1989, requiring 12 kilos of gold on this occasion.

Inside, under the roof dome in framework, there are two cut stone domes that make up two scenographic plans. They are decorated with frescoes representing the figures of several saints painted by Jean Jouvenet and an immense composition by Charles de la Fosse which represents Saint Louis in his ermine coat with royal emblems (the fleur-de-lys ) handing his sword to Jesus Christ, surrounded by musical angels.

Since 1861, under the dome and the domes, rests the body of the Emperor Napoleon I in six successive coffins inside a sarcophagus of red quartzite, in an open-air crypt dug for this purpose in the center of the ‘building.

There are four chapels on the ground floor, which encircle the cupola. Dedicated to Grégoire, Augustin, Jérôme, Ambroise and Marie for the main altar, they are decorated with paintings by Pierre Dulin, Louis de Boullogne, Bon Boullogne, Noël Coypel and Michel Corneille.

The Saint-Louis-des-Invalides cathedral
In the spirit of Louis XIV, the Hôtel des Invalides must not only care for war invalids but also ensure the morality of its residents: as at the Escurial, the place of honor will therefore be reserved for a church, logically placed under the patronage of Saint Louis, King of France. It was built from 1676 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, after the design by Libéral Bruant, the architect of the Hôtel des Invalides. The church, seat of a parish of the diocese of Paris until 1791, was opened for soldiers from 1679. The ringing of the bell reminded them of their spiritual duties: morning and evening prayer and obligatory attendance at mass and vespers on Sundays and the days of major feasts.

The “vicariate of the French armies” was created in 1957, under the authority of the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris. In 1967 he became independent. The apostolic constitution Spirituali militum curae of John Paul II of April 21, 1986 transforms it into an Ordinariate for the Armed Forces. As of July 21, 1986, people speak more of a Diocese of the Armed Forces, of a Bishop in the Armies, and the Church of Saint-Louis then obtained the status of cathedral of the diocese of the French armies. The “choir” of Saint-Louis Cathedral is the only one of all the churches and cathedrals that is permanently adorned with French flags. To the right near the entrance is also a Liberty Way marker and then a Sacred Land marker.

The Hôtel des Invalides was founded in 1670 by King Louis XIV as a hospital for wounded, sick or elderly soldiers. It is a magnificent example of classical architecture right at the heart of Paris. Today it is a museum but also a memorial site, containing Saint-Louis des Invalides church. Beneath the prestigious Dome, the church houses the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Inside the prestigious building, the Musée de l’Armée preserves and displays one of the richest collections of military history in the world with almost 500,000 pieces, from the Bronze Age to the 21st century.

Army Museum
The Musée de l’Armée is a national military museum of France located at Les Invalides in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. The Musée de l’Armée was created in 1905 with the merger of the Musée d’Artillerie and the Musée Historique de l’Armée. The museum’s seven main spaces and departments contain collections that span the period from antiquity through the 20th century.

The Musée de l’Armée was created in 1905 with the merger of the Musée d’Artillerie and the Musée Historique de l’Armée. The Musée de l’artillerie (Museum of Artillery – “artillerie” meaning all things related to weapons) was founded in 1795 in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and expanded under Napoleon. It was moved into the Hôtel des Invalides in 1871, immediately following the Franco-Prussian War and the proclamation of the Third Republic.

The Musée de l’Armée has identified 24 aesthetic, technical and symbolic “treasures,” which are all closely linked to French military history from the late Middle Ages through to World War II. They include weapons, armour, works of arts and technology.

The Museum of Relief Maps
The Musée des relief maps presents a unique collection of relief plans of strongholds which date, for the most part, from the 17th to the 19th century. The construction of models dates to 1668 when François-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois and minister of war to Louis XIV, began a collection of three-dimensional models of fortified cities for military purposes, known as ‘plans-relief’.

Today, 112 models are conserved by this museum, of which 15 are kept in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Additional models among those taken by the Prussians were later given to the cities of Strasbourg and Landau in der Pfalz. At present, the museum displays 28 plans-reliefs of fortifications along the English Channel, the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, and the Pyrenees. It also contains presentations on construction and use of the plans-reliefs.

National tribute
The Hôtel des Invalides, as a military pantheon, is the place of those who died for the nation. Since the return of Napoleon’s ashes to the Invalides in 1840, the national homage has most often taken place in the main courtyard of the Hôtel des Invalides. It is usually a tribute to soldiers killed in combat, but many civilian personalities have been honored there after their death.

The national tribute ceremony takes place in the courtyard of the Invalides. On one side of this courtyard are lined up, at attention, detachments of the three armies and the band, on the other side the civilians. The ceremony, presided over by the President of the Republic, traditionally includes the following phases: military honors then the review of the troops by the President of the Republic (who is also Chief of the Armed Forces), the arrival of the coffin covered with the national flag, a speech by relatives, the eulogy pronounced by the Head of State, the military funeral honours, the departure of the coffin and the honors to the flags.