Proposed by Louis XIV in 1670 as a home for “invalids” – disabled and impoverished war veterans, Les Invalides was designed by Libéral Bruant and completed in 1676. Shortly after the veterans’ chapel was completed, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. Inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the original for all Baroque domes, it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture.
The dome itself is 107 meters high (351 ft) making it one of the tallest monuments in Paris, and was centrally placed in order to dominate the court of honor – one of 15 courtyards at the complex, designed for military parades. The inside of the dome was painted by Charles de La Fosse, disciple of 18th century well-known French painter, Charles Le Brun.
The doors seen you see to the right are covered in gold leaf, 25 feet tall, weigh almost 3 tons and have several symbols on them. The top round monogram is Louis XIV with two crossed “L’s”. The two round monograms framing the fleur de lis of France in the middle are for Saint Louis, King Louis IX. The square section between is topped with two trophy helmets, the sun with a human face for Louis XIV (he believed he was unique and radiant like the sun) and finally the coat of arms for the kings of France, three golden fleur de lis on a sea of blue.
As you enter, a large sunken well is directly in front of you with Napoleans tomb below and the painted dome above. The photo to the left shows the entrance from the other side of the well.
The well must be about one hundred feet in diameter and about thirty feet deep. Above the well is the cuppola of the chapel featuring Louis IX.
The cuppola is very far up and beautiful. If you remember, bring a pair of binoculars to view it in more detail.
In each corner of the ceiling are more paintings.
And finally there is the tomb of the great man, Napoleon I. Napoleon, whose last wish was to be buried at the banks of the Seine River. He died and was buried on the island of St. Helena in 1821 after he had been exiled there in 1815. King Louis-Philippe decided to have his body exhumed and returned to Paris in 1840. He chose to have him entombed at Les Invalides. It was inaugurated by King Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon I.
Napolean was buried within 5 coffins, made of tin, mahogany, two of lead and ebony, just like an ancient egyption. He was then placed inside the stone sarcophagus made of red Finnish porphyry set on a green granite base from Vosages. The tomb is surrounded by 12 statues meant to represent Napoleon’s victories. It is 2 meters wide, 4 meters long and 5 meters tall.
In order to accommodate the tomb, architect Louis Visconti had to redesign the high altar of the domed church. It is a baldacchino slightly slightly smaller than the dimensions of those used by Bernini in Saint Peters Cathedral. The twisting columns are of black marble with a gold canopy showing The monogram of Saint Louis on the front.
The yellow glow which makes it look as though the entire structure is covered in gold is achieved by using yellow stained glass windows on each side. The rails of the same marble also pick up the yellow light and the entire altar seems to be bathed in gold.
Another view from below the banisters.
And a view from the sunken well.
On the way down to his tomb, you pass two eight feet tall statues by Fracsique Duret done in 1840, carrying Charlemagne’s crown and the hand of justice on the left and the imperial globe with Charlemagne’s sword on the right. The inscription above the door reads, “I would like to be laid to rest on the banks of the Seine, among the French people whom I have loved so dearly”.
On the floor this insignia.
Along the walls of the sunken well, a series of ten bas reliefs detailing the civil achievements of Napoleon including the one pictured above concerning the Napoleonic code introduced in 1804. This set of laws is largely still used in France today. In the sculpture, the old laws are at the feet of Napoleon, an old man holding the old Roman code looking down at them while the young man is proudly looking at the emporer, holding Napoleon’s laws which say, “Justice that is fair and understandable for all”. This has echoes of the “Code of Hammurabi” which Napoleon must have been aware of and the importance of introducing his own code to history.
In the sub level there are several additional tombs including the one shown to the left of Napoleon II, Napoleon’s son. Napoleon II never ruled in France, he remained exiled in Rome and was sometimes called the “King of Rome” or the eaglet.
The Dome Church also houses the sepultures of two of Napoléon’s brothers, Jérôme and Joseph Bonaparte as well as a whole list of meritorious solders from wars in Algeria, Morocco and Vietnam as well as resistance fighters in WWII. There are monuments to Bertrand, Duroc, Mortier, LaChasse, Ardon, Leger, Raffe, Remi and Prudhomme to mention just a few. One such monument seems to mention the French foreign legion to which they may have belonged. I wish there was a sign or placard describing their obviously brave lives.
Lyautey was commissary-general in Morocco during the early stages of the First World War. In December 1916 he was recalled to Paris and became War Minister in the government headed by Aristide Briand. Visits to the Western Front soon convinced him that the Nivelle Offensive was a mistake. Unable to stop the offensive taking place he resigned from office in March 1917.
Another large monument in the Dôme des Invalides is the bronze tomb of marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander of the allied armies at the end of the first World War.
The memorial of Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban, marshal of King Louis XIV’s army, was installed here in 1808 at Napoleon’s request. The monument contains an urn with the ashes of Vauban.