A to Z Abroad: Les Invalides


My habit of wandering off from the tour group has taken me to some pretty interesting places over the years, but one of my favorite wanderings brought me in direct contact with a favorite historical figure – Napoleon Bonaparte.

Not far from the Eiffel Tower, is the lesser known site Les Invalides or L’Hôtel national des Invalides. The golden steeple of the dome shimmers in the sun like a beacon to every history geek and architecture nerd within a 50-mile radius.

Les Invalides was built in the 17th century at the behest of Louis XIV. Naturally, all the opulence of his era is encrusted in every facet of the building, from its decorative gardens to the crowning jewel of a dome in the adjoining chapel. For any fan of Late Baroque architecture, Les Invalides is an absolute marvel.

Les Invalides, Paris
Photo by: c.b.w. 2003

First commissioned as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers, Les Invalides remains a haven for war veterans in the same tradition today. However, the complex has expanded to include museums and monuments relating to the military history of France. In addition, Les Invalides serves as a burial site for France’s war heroes.

I wandered through the galleries that hold weapons and uniforms spanning several centuries. I’ve never been one for military history, but when I walked into a room dedicated to artifacts from Napoleonic France, I started to drool, (I have a slight obsession with this era in history that I can’t explain). Honestly, only a history teacher can get away with salivating over Napoleon’s clothing and other personal effects. And I just about died at the sight of a dress worn by his wife Josephine.

Imagine my excitement when I walked into the chapel and realized I was in the presence of Napoleon’s tomb! Beneath the gold encrusted and beautifully painted dome, lies a red quartzite sarcophagus elevated on a slab of green granite.

The dome of Les Invalides
Photo by: c.b.w. 2003

Napoleon’s Tomb (not the best shot, but it’s all I’ve got!)
Photo by: c.b.w. 2003

Hero or villain, the jury is still out for historians, but to visit the tomb of a man who literally changed the political landscape of Europe made for an incredible adventure in Paris.

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Part of the A to Z Challenge!


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c.b.w. 2013