by Ed Hahn
Hong Kong, China
September 18, 2005
Les Invalides covers a huge area and contains a complex of buildings, monuments, museums, churches and fifteen courtyards. The entire area is dedicated to France’s military history. King Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670 as a home and hospital for invalided and aged veterans, hôpital des invalids, from which comes the present shortened name. The Institution Nationale des Invalides is still headquartered here and includes a retirement home, a medical and surgical center and a center for external medical consultations.
There is both a veteran’s chapel and the far more famous, separate, church of St. Louis des Invalides, often referred to as the Dôme des Invalides from its most striking feature, a dome inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
The most notable tomb at Les Invalides is that of Napoleon Bonaparte in the crypt under the dome. His remains are kept in a series of no fewer than six coffins, one inside the other, within a giant sarcophagus of red porphyry, ringed by a dozen statues symbolizing his campaigns. Napoleon’s body was originally interred on Saint Helena. His remains were brought to St Jerome's Chapel in Paris in 1840 where it reposed while the domed chapel was renovated. In 1861, Napoleon's body was moved to its current prominent location. His two brothers, Joseph and Jerome and his son Napoleon II are interred on the periphery of his tomb. Ferdinand Foch, the Marshal of France during WWI, is buried here also.
It’s hard not being impressed with the scene. For history buffs like Tom and I, our viewing takes on the aspects of a pilgrimage. I keep thinking about the impact he had on the history of modern Europe to say nothing of military tactics. One picture I’ve always carried around in my head is of Hitler looking down on Napoleon’s Tomb after the fall of France in 1940. They both had one thing in common. They were stupid enough to invade Russia. At least Napoleon’s Empire (1799–1814) lasted longer than Hitler’s Reich (1933–1945).
The surrounding chapels contain statuary, paintings and the remains of other French military leaders, but it is Napoleon’s Tomb that overwhelms all else and that people come to see.
Les Invalides also includes the Musee d’Armee, which I review in a separate entry. The admission for the whole complex is about 10 euros. The area is closed the first Monday of every month. Picture-taking is allowed.
From journal Ah, Paris!!!