Les Invalides is a series of buildings located in the 7th arrondissement in Paris, along with the Eiffel Tower and l’Assemblee Nationale. Originally commissioned by Louis XIV as a hospital and home for retired veterans, the hospital grew into an entire complex, which continues to serve its original purpose today along with housing several museums and monuments open to visitors, including the Paris Army Museum.
In November of 1670, Louis XIV ordered the construction of Les Invalides de Paris, and over the next five years, the construction was funded by a levied excise taken from the salaries of working soldiers. After the original structure was completed in 1676, expansion began with a veteran’s chapel, followed by a private royal chapel, often called Eglise du Dome, referring to the prominent dome standing above the rest of the construction. Today, the construction has taken on new purposes, including housing historical relics and museums honoring military leaders and events throughout the history of France.
Since its erection, Les Invalides has played an important part throughout history, including the French Revolution. On July 14, 1789, the day of the storming of the Bastille, Les Invalides was under guard, but the mob was numerous enough to overrun them, and nearly 28,000 arms were taken from the underground weapons storehouse and used during the revolution.
Les Invalides also houses the remains of important French citizens, the most well-known being Napoleon's tomb, which was established here nineteen years after the emperor's death on the Island of St. Helena. Louis-Philippe, the King of France at the time of negotiation to move the remains, conferred with the British government for seven years on the subject, and when the coffin was finally transported, individuals who opened the coffin reported a perfect preservation of the Emperor’s body. A grand funeral procession took place, from the Arc de Triomphe to St. Jerome’s Chapel, upon his arrival in Paris. Today, Napoleon’s tomb is open to visitors. Other tombs in the building include several members of his family, several officers who served under Napoleon, and other key military heroes of France, including commanders from the First and Second World Wars.
In addition to being a major tourist attraction, holding Napoleon’s tomb and the Paris Army Museum, a portion of Les Invalides continues to maintain its original service as a hospital for soldiers and a home for retired veterans, consisting of a retirement home, a medical and surgical center, and a center for external medical consultations. It has also been an inspiration for other structures in various other countries serving the same purpose, including the Greenwich Hospital, constructed in 1694 under the commission of William III of England.
While visiting the Left Bank of Paris, travelers should be sure to include Napoleon’s tomb, the Paris Army Museum, and the encompassing Les Invalides complex on their list of attractions to visit. Nearby attractions include the Eiffel Tower, the Latin Quarter, and the Jardin du Luxembourg, meaning a stop here can easily be added to a day of traveling to the most famous sights in the city. Les Invalides de Paris will be a charming addition to every Paris vacation.
Top image: vigour (flickr)