There was a need for a place to accommodate and care the veteran soldiers who fought for France in 1670. That is why Louis XIV commissioned French architect Libéral Bruant to design Hôtel des Invalides in 1671. The completion of the monumental complex in Paris took until 1676 and involved architects Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte too who assisted Mansart in the later stages.
The royal chapel was constructed afterwards from 1677 to 1706. The interiors of the chapel hailed Louis the Great, his monarchy, and the French army. However, when Napoleon Bonaparte ruled France following the French Revolution, the dome chapel became a pantheon of his military often referred to as the Great Army. In 1800, the First Consul ordered his troops to transfer the coffin of French Marshal Turenne below the dome and to transfer the heart of Marshal Vauban to the vault erected near Turenne’s tomb.
Following Napoleon’s death in 1821, when was exile in the Saint Helena Island, he was buried in what is often referred to as the “Valley of the Tomb”. The emperor’s corpse remained there until the year 1840, which was when Louis Philippe I ordered to transfer the body to France. He had a funeral in his country of birth in 1840 referred as the ‘Return of the Ashes’. The King also commissioned Louis Visconti to construct the Napoleon’s Tomb below the dome of Hôtel national des Invalides.
In fact, Napoleon was first buried in the Saint-Jerôme Chapel and later moved to the tomb in Eglise du Dôme in 1861, once the Italian-born French architect completed its construction. Napoleon III, his nephew, was present at the function. The mortal remains of the emperor were placed in the sarcophagus amid the circular vault.
Visitors often enter the vault through a staircase when on private tour Les Invalides nowadays, which leads up to the bronze door made of the cannon captured by the Great Army from the Battle of Austerlitz. There are two statues, which flank the door and above it is an excerpt taken from the will of Napoleon Bonaparte, which would also turn out to be his death wish and an ode to the French.
The sarcophagus sits on a granite base and features up to six coffins. Napoleon Bonaparte is clad in the colonel uniform bearing the sash of Legion of Honour with the hat resting on the legs in the Emperor’s Tomb. The chapel floor shows the battles that Napoleon won lined up with a dozen victory statues sculpted by James Pradier mounted above the cryptic pillars.
The gallery in the vault is home to ten bas reliefs sculpted by Pierre-Charles Simart illustrating excerpts from the reign of Napoleon. Midway through the gallery contains King of Rome tomb, which was transferred to dome chapel at Dôme des Invalides in 1940 and placed below the slab in 1969. Above the tomb of King of Rome, Napoleon Bonaparte is sculpted as a Roman emperor.
Inside the Les Invalides complex, there are two side chapels too and one of the side chapel houses the two brothers of the emperor namely Joseph Bonaparte and Jerôme Bonaparte. On the other hand, the Musée de l’Armée launched in 1905 resides in another wing of the complex and comprises of Musée des Plans-Reliefs and the Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération two military museums.
Musée de l’Armée is one of the largest museums in the world not only in Paris city. You would be amazed by the lavishness of the museum and the number of artifacts featured there when on a private tour Les Invalides. Take, for instance, the dining hall of the French soldiers featuring the flags from the first regiment of Napoleon Bonaparte, the trophies and restorations from each period in the history of France.
Another notable work include “Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne” a neoclassical painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. The galleries in the second level of Les Invalides are arranged according to a chronological order. The galleries that follow the gallery dedicated to the French Monarchy of Napoleon evoke the victorious campaigns of the emperor in Italy and Egypt.
The Boulogne room is home to some of Napoleon’s personal belongings most notable of which depicts his coronation saddle, the sword that conquered the Austerlitz, the sash of Legion of Honour, his hat and a military tent. The subsequent rooms are devoted to Napoleon’s brothers, and his favorite marshals from the Great Army.
Head to the Eylau room and you can see his last horse namely Le Vizir and the Montmirail room displays “Napoleon I in Fontainebleau during his first abdication” a portrait of dethrone by Paul Delaroche. The restoration room is dedicated to Elba and Saint Helena islands and also chronicles the drawing room of the emperor, his deathbed, and other private spaces.