Updated: Jul 30
One of the most impactful buildings to be used in serving the memory of a man:
The Hôtel des Invalides
This monumental construction was commissioned way before Napoleon's birth; in 1670 by King Louis XIV in order to provide accommodation and hospital care for wounded soldiers. It served for the same purpose for centuries and it still does up to a certain extend.
In 1815, the last year of Napoleon in power, over 5,000 survivors of the Great Army were treated here as they recovered. The energy of the fallen soldiers is said to have been restored every time their commander-in-chief, Napoleon himself, visited the hospital in 1808, 1813 and 1815.
No hospital of the time of Louis XIV would be complete without a chapel, and this was not the exception. At the end of the 17th century architect Jules-Hardouin Mansart designed a building which combined a royal chapel (now Dôme des Invalides) with a veterans' chapel (now Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides). The interior of the dome was painted with a Baroque illusion of space when seen from below. Inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Dôme des Invalides is the triumph of French Baroque architecture and was Paris' tallest building until the Eiffel Tower was erected in 1889.
These glorious characteristics as well as the positive impact that the Emperor produced over his wounded soldiers during his visits were the main reasons that pushed King Louis-Philippe to choose this place to be the tomb for the Emperor’s mortal remains.
Napoleon’s remains were successfully returned to France in 1840 (19 years after his death). In his will, he had asked to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but since he passed away during his exile at the British island Saint Helena, the British governor in charge decided to have him buried in the same place. Nevertheless King Louis-Philippe negotiated the return of the former emperor successfully and it was celebrated with a grand state funeral and a sort of parade for the hearse, starting at the Arc de Triomphe going down the Champs-Élysées all the way to the Place de la Concorde and finally onto the Esplanade des Invalides. But it took a bit over 20 years before Napoleon’s tomb was finished!
The architect Ludovico Visconti designed a circular crypt, without a ceiling, so that it is possible to look in from ground-level so that without even realising the visitors offer a reverence to the emperor. Napoleon’s sarcophagus stands in the middle, on a granite pedestal. Inside it there are six more coffins of different kinds of wood and metal, almost like a Matryoshka doll!
Today, many visitors of Napoleon’s tomb reach a similar conclusion: it is a jaw-dropping experience, and really mind-boggling to see such a majestic place dedicated to one man. It makes the legend of the man seem, well, god-like. This type of resting place is reminiscent of the pharaohs, who viewed themselves as deities. Except the shapes and motifs are totally different as they are not unique.
The basis of baroque architecture is to display the omnipotence of God. When developed by the Catholic Church, this type of baroque with highly decorative and theatrical elements uses domes that are meant to emulate heaven.
Other masterworks of baroque architecture around the world as they are dedicated to God may be sublime, but the Royal Chapel of the Dôme des Invalides is incredibly dedicated “just” to a mortal. Napoleon is not buried there alone, he is accompanied by his brothers Joseph and Jerôme Bonapart, his son Napoleon II, and several military officers who served under his empire. Interestingly, some of the vaults there hold just the hearts of 9 generals, while the rest of their bodies are interred elsewhere. This is also reminiscent of Egyptian burial practices and of other cultures who place importance to the posthumous heart organ. In fact, although Napoleon II’s body is at Invalides, his heart remains in Vienna.
As you can imagine we highly encourage every traveler in Paris to visit this historical and magnificent place during their stay in the city of light.
If you decide to follow our recommendation please dedicate a bit more time to this visit as the tickets also include access to the adjacent museum of war and military history, which houses one of the largest collections of war artefacts in the world dating from medieval times!
Get your flexible tickets HERE and we wish you a wonderful and glorious visit!
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