Wednesday, August 20, 2014

L'Hôtel national des Invalides

It's really hard to write a blog post when I'm trying to fill in gaps from several years ago.  I look through my photos and see how I've sorted them and which were my favorites and 3 years later, I wonder why I didn't choose this photo or that photo.  Since I've decided I don't care about a lot of things related to this blog lately, I've decided that I don't care if there are too many photos either.  That's an oxymoron anyway isn't it? 

I've been trying to catch up on Chris and Jeff's visit, and their last full day in Paris was so chock-full of fabulous stuff, that their last day will have to be several posts.  I know you're heartbroken about that. And the order of things isn't exactamundo either and I know you're really concerned about that too.  All of my new Paris posts are from the past anyway, so what difference does a few days or weeks make at this point?  None, I say.  So this is out of order, and I don't care.  I think my theme song for 2014 is I don't care.  This is a big step for me, since I'm typically an anal retentive perfectionist who eschews redundancy.  But I don't care about that either.  On Chris and Jeff's last full day in Paris, one of the places we went to was  L'Hôtel national des Invalides and I do care about that.

L'Hôtel national des Invalides
That's its proper name.  Perhaps you know it as Les Invalides or Napolean's Tomb.  Whatever you choose to call it, it is still the same complex of buildings that today houses museums and monuments dedicated to France's military history as well as a hospital and retirement home for war veterans.  The buildings were originally commissioned by Louis XIV in 1670, as a home and hospital for soldiers and veterans.  An added chapel, Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides, was finished in 1679.  It is known as the Soldier's Chapel and they were required to attend daily.  Shortly after the Soldier's Chapel was completed, Louis XIV commissioned a separate chapel for the royals.  Inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, it is known as Eglise du Dome, was finished in 1708, and is an excellent example of French Baroque architecture.

Baroque Dome
Inside the dome
The inside of the dome is as beautiful as the outside.  The ceiling was painted by Charles de la Fosse, a french painter born in Paris.  The surrounding windows add a beautiful, soft light to the chapel.  In addition to the baroque architecture, this chapel has many features that make it stunningly beautiful;  the intricate, inlaid and multi-colored marble used through out,

Marble banister

In-laid marble floor decoration

beautifully adorned side chapels containing sarcophagi of Napoleon's family members and notable military officers,

Tomb of Joseph Bonaparte
Tomb of Marshal Ferdinand Foch
Tomb of French Army General Hubert Lyautey


Napoleon II - The King of Rome, also known as The Eaglet
and an ornate altar.

High Altar of the domed chapel 

This altar was designed by architect Louis Visconti, which was a redesigned of the original altar to accommodate Napoleon's crypt.  The yellow light from the yellow stained glass casts a golden light on the entire altar, including the twisted, black marble columns.

As I said, there are many features that make this chapel stunningly beautiful, but the thing that caught my eye the most was the light.  I'm biased by light, I admit, but it can be truly beautiful and dramatic and soft and warm, all at the same time.  This church was designed with light in mind; from the colors of the stained glass to the placement of the windows and lamps, light was very much a part of the art and architecture of the chapel.  If you look again at the photos I've already posted, most of them are in amazing light.  Here's some more:

Detail from Lyautey's tomb - the blue light from the blue stained glass windows glanced off the side so beautifully

Stairway leading down to Napoleon's crypt - the yellow light from this window was soft and warm and casts a regal golden hue

There is a mix of natural and lamp light in this one, creating amazing colors amidst the architecture
The above photo is from the crypt where Napoleon's tomb has been placed upon a green granite pedestal.  The statues on the columns represent Napoleon's victories.

Napoleon's Tomb - which is surprisingly like a Russian nesting doll; there are 6 coffins, one nested inside the other
Napoleon's tomb from above - his main battles are inscribed around the inner circle surrounded by a laurel crown
The circular gallery around the crypt contains 10 white marble bas reliefs, each depicting a significant event from Napoleon's reign.

Bas relief depicting the Napoleonic Code
The chambers on the lower level and adjacent to Napoleon's crypt contain more tombs and vaults.  Did you know that the hearts of nine people are interred in vaults?  Their bodies are interred elsewhere.  And did you know that Napoleon was originally buried on the island of St. Helena, where he was originally exiled?  And that the British changed their minds about his burial and in 1840, moved his remains to Paris aboard a black frigate?  No?  Me neither until recently.  Moving Napoleon's remains became known as the return of the ashes.  Upon his return to Paris, Napoleon was buried at St. Jerome's Chapel at Les Invalides.  Twenty-one years later, he was finally laid to rest in his 6 coffins under the dome.  

After we visited the Eglise du Dome, we walked around the back to see Saint-Louis des Invalides Chapel.   Along the way we saw some interesting light play and took an interesting photo:
Chris - light and dark

We saw some antique cannons:

French Classical Cannons-pretty but deadly

And then we entered the chapel:

Soldier's Chapel, Saint-Louis des Invalides Chapel

The Soldier's Chapel is smaller and more intimate.  Its architecture is classical and it is decorated with trophies taken from the enemy.  These trophies were originally hung on the vault at Notre Dame Cathedral, but after the French Revolution, those which weren't destroyed were transferred to L'Hotel des Invalides.  



The organ in the chapel is a Germain Pilon and dates back to the 17th century.  

Organ detail

After spending several hours immersing ourselves in French history and architecture, we were hungry.  Lunch on Rue Cler was perfect!

We loved this creperie that used to be a butcher shop.   


  1. Breathtaking photos! I've been to Paris twice but I've never been inside. I hope I get another chance. I had no idea what I had missed.

  2. Thanks Grammy! It really is beautiful. And if you're a history buff or interested in war history, their Army museum is HUGE!