Foundation of the Hotel des Invalides

The Hotel des Invalides regroups various army museums, a military hospital and two churches.

Hotel des Invalides - Dome Church seen from the gardens
Dome Church seen from the gardens

It’s also one of the few Parisian monuments to have retained its 17th century original appearance.

Its origin goes back to 1604, when King Henri IV founded the Maison Royale de la Charité.

This hospice and retirement home for disabled war veterans, located in the 5th district of Paris, closed after the assassination of the king in 1610.

In 1634, Cardinal de Richelieu founded a similar hospice, Commanderie Saint-Louis, in the Château of Bicêtre on the southern outskirts of Paris. 

This establishment also closed.

However, Louis XIV succeeded where his two predecessors failed. 

He commissioned the architect Liberal-Bruant with the construction of a hospital for the invalid and old soldiers who served in his armies.

The king laid the first stone of the Hôpital Royal des Invalides on September 30, 1671, and the inauguration took place in 1706.

Liberal-Bruant facade

The north facing facade of the Hotel des Invalides is considered a superb illustration of French Classical architecture.

Hotel des Invalides - Liberal-Bruant facadee
Liberal-Bruant facade

A Mansart-style roof, corner pavilions, cornices and sculptures soften it strict lines.

The central pavilion is shaped like a triumphal arch, and a sculpture of Louis XIV as a Roman imperor (by Coustou) marks its centre.

It overlooks the entrance courtyard, where the Russian guns Napoleon I seized in Vienna in 1805 are on display.

It leads to the Cour d’Honneur, a 102m long by 63m wide courtyard encompassed within four identical buildings.

Saint-Louis-des-Invalides Church

Jules Hardouin-Mansart designed a ‘double’ chapel: a chapel for the veterans (Saint-Louis-des-Invalides) adjacent to a royal chapel (L’Eglise du Dôme).

Hotel des Invalides - Cour d'Honneur
Cour d’Honneur

The two chapels were initially linked so the king and his old soldiers could attend mass together.

St-Louis-des-Invalides was completed in 1677 and is only accessible from the Cour d’Honneur.

Its crypt houses the tombs of the governors of the Hotel des Invalides. 

It also shelters the remains of 420 soldiers of the Empire, WWI and WWII, and 150 flags captured on the various battlefields.

St-Louis-des-Invalides is now the cathedral for the French armies.

Dôme des Invalides

Hardouin-Mansart  started the construction of the Dôme des Invalides (Chapelle Royale) in 1677 and Cotte completed in 1708.

Dome Church - Hotel des Invalides
Dome Church

It was linked to St-Louis-des-Invalides until the mid-19th century. 

Two altars built back to back, then a glass wall definitively delineated the two chapels.

Largely inspired by St-Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Eglise du Dôme des Invalides is a superb illustration of French Baroque architecture.

The facade boasts a wealth of Corinthian and Doric columns, statues representing the basic virtues but also Emperor Charlemagne and King Louis IX by Coysevox and Coustou.

Gold-plated lead tiles and sculptures adorn the dome’s roof that peaks 107m above ground level. 

A lantern, which supports a pyramid crowned by a globe, crowns it.

The interior decoration is entirely dedicated to Louis XIV and his armies. 

It is lavishly decorated with a wealth of sculptures, trophies, motto, reliefs, statues, medallions and paintings.

Hotel des Invalides moats and Russian cannons Napoleon seized in Vienna
Moats and Russian cannons Napoleon seized in Vienna

Le Brun painted the dome’s ceiling.

The floor is decorated with an elaborate marble mosaic with Fleur-de-Lys patterns (the emblem of French monarchy) and Louis XIV’s monogram.

Lateral chapels shelter the graves of Generals Bertrand and Duroc, Marshals Turenne, Vauban, Lyautey and Foch, two of Napoleon’s brothers and his young son, L’Aiglon, King of Rome.

The Emperor’s tomb is in the open crypt, in the centre of the church.

Crypt of the Dome Church

Twisted columns of white marble support the canopy that opens onto the hallway leading to Napoleon’s tomb.

The door was cast with the bronze of the cannons seized at the Battle of Austerlitz and two statues by the sculptor Duret flank it.

Hotel des Invalides - Statue of Napoleon in the crypt
Statue of Napoleon

Napoleon’s last wish is engraved on the door’s lintel:

“Je désire que mes cendres reposent sur les bords de la Seine auprès de ce peuple que j’ai tant aimé…” 

“I would like my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine with the people I loved so much …”

Twenty-six marble steps lead down to a circular gallery.

The walls are adorned with ten low-reliefs, sculpted by Simart, representing the Emperor’s Life .

Twelves columns, sculpted from a single block of stone, surround Napoleon’s tomb.

Pradier sculpted the statues symbolizing the twelve victories of the Napoleonic Empire.

Finally, a black marble chapel houses a man-size statue of Napoleon represented on the day of his coronation.

It also serves as a display room for some of the emperor’s personal effects. 

This includes (among others) the sword he used at the battle of Austerlitz, the hat he wore at Eylau and his medals.

Tomb of Emperor Napoleon I

The tomb of the Emperor was placed in the crypt on April 2, 1861.

Napoleon I was born in Ajaccio in Corsica in 1769. 

Hotel des Invalides - Napoleon's tomb in Dome Church crypt
Napoleon’s tomb

He died in St-Helena Island, a British island located in the South Atlantic off the African coast. 

Napoleon was held prisoner there from 1815, date of his second abdication, to his death in 1821.

His ashes were brought back from St-Helena on December 15, 1840 and initially placed in Saint-Jérôme Church until completion of the crypt.

Visconti sculpted the Emperor’s red porphyry sarcophagus that sits on a green granite pedestal and contains six coffins locked into each other.

The Emperor rests in an iron coffin with an urn containing his heart by his feet.

This coffin was placed in a mahogany coffin; the third and fourth are made of lead, the fifth of ebony and the sixth of oak.

There is no morbid feeling as you enter the crypt; quite the opposite. 

Everything indeed reflects the dignity and grandeur of an outstanding statesman and cunning strategist.

Army Museums

Cour d'Honneur - Hotel des Invalides
Cour d’Honneur

Finally, the Hotel des Invalides regroups a series of museums that relate the history of the French army from Louis XIV to WWII, from the various military campaigns and colonial expeditions to the evolution of equipment and weapons.

The Musée de l’Armée consists of several museums distributed in the outbuildings.

The Models Museum – Musée des Plans-Reliefs was founded in 1777. 

It exhibits a unique collection of 104 models of French and European cities fortified by Marshal Vauban, the Commissioner General of Fortifications during the reign of Louis XIV.

The Artillery Museum was founded in 1872, the Museum of the Army in 1896 and the Museum of the Order of the Liberation in 1905.

The Military Maps Museum was founded after WWI.

Gare des Invalides on the Esplanade

The architect de Cotte designed the Esplanade in 1704.

The 12.5 hectare square stretches between the Hotel des Invalides and the river Seine.

Dome Church - Hotel des Invalides

It replaces the former Pré-Saint-Germain, the meadows that once belonged Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abbey.

L’Esplanade des Invalides served as a venue for the Universal Exhibitions of 1889 and 1900. 

It has since been restored and replanted to the original.

The architect Lisch built the neo-Greek style Gare des Invalides for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. 

The building was the terminus of the electrified railway linking Paris to Versailles. 

In 1946, Bigot converted it in a bus terminus in order to connect Paris to the airports of Orly and Le Bourget.

Directions: 7th District
Metro: Invalides on Lines 8, 13
Coordinates: Lat 48.858157 – Long 2.312896

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