Hôtel des Invalides was founded by Louis XIV in 1670 to shelter 7,000 aged or crippled former soldiers. The enormous range of buildings was completed in five years (1671-76) by Libéral Bruant, and then by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte. The gold-plated dome, with six kilograms of gold leaf, that rises above the hospital buildings belongs to the Church of Saint-Louis (1675-1706) and was designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. Mansart modeled the dome after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Construction began in 1706 and was completed in 1708 by Robert de Cotte after Mansart had died. Surrounding the buildings are gardens and parks, consistent with the French ideal of the healing powers of nature. I thought that as part of my series on French gardens, I would show you some of my favorite places at Les Invalides.
Just to get you oriented, I have included the map shown above. There are nice gardens surrounding the buildings, formal gardens at the north and south entrances. There are two very nice small gardens on each corner of the north entrance outside the actual complex of Invalides, Square Santiago du Chili and Square d'Ajaccio.
The entire complex is surrounded by a moat which these days is filled with manicured grass.
The north front garden is dominated by a set of fan shaped roads and cannons. This ornate cannon is sort of an appropriate bronze for a war museum garden. Also the line of cannon were used in the past for ceremonial occasions, manned by the residents of the Invalides. I don't think anyone has discharged these for a good long while and I doubt anyone living here today would even know how to fire them. The north formal garden looks a little bleak if you just walk straight into the courtyard.
But if you go over to the sides, the roads disappear and the garden looks quite beautiful. The front garden is great for getting views of the nearby Eiffel Tower.
They have a particularly beautiful garden at the south entrance. This is one of my favorite statues, adjacent to the entrance of the Church of Saint Louis or today known as the resting place of Napoleon or even Dôme des Inalides. The sculpture is a portrait of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Earl of Sagonne, born April 16, 1646 in Paris and died May 11, 1708 in Marly-le-Roi. He was the chief architect of King Louis XIV, responsible for the transformation of Versailles in 1678, and construction of the Royal Church of the Invalides. The statue is by Ernest Henri Dubois from 1908. The Jardin de l'Intendant or Garden of the Steward, stretches out behind him. It is a classically-French designed garden of 13,311 square meters, created in 1980, based on an 18th century design of Robert de Cotte's, brother-in-law to Jules Hardouin Mansart and Steward of Buildings and Gardens under Louis XV. A row of trees separates the Jardin de l'Intendant from the approach to the Eglise du Dôme. Even though statues are common in French formal gardens, I find this to be an exceptional statue placed in just the right place. You can almost feel him looking over your shoulder at the dome that he created while consulting the plans laid across his knee.
It is a little early in the season, but in between the hedges they plant a colorful mix of flowers that are in their full glory in mid-summer as shown above from last year.
If you walk to the grove of trees behind the Jardin l'Intendant you will find some shaded benches. You will also find this fountain dedicated to victims of terrorism. Here, in the middle of this square formed by trees is found, standing alone, a somewhat disturbing statue, as well it was intended to be. In its simplicity it makes a powerful impression. It is a bronze statue and fountain of a headless woman who is holding her decapitated head in her own hands. Water issues from her severed neck and flows down her body. It is the creation of the Belgian sculpture Nicolas Alquin. It was placed here on December 3, 1998, and is dedicated to the memory of the victims of terrorism. It was sponsored by SOS Attentats (attentats means terrorist attack in French) but according to the website the group was dissolved in 2008.
In the southeast corner of Invalides, behind another row of trees, is the hospital garden, a quiet and serene place for the disabled veterans to relax and recover. Not quite as fancy as the Jardin de l'Intendant but beautiful in its own way.
As you recall, I mentioned two small but very beautiful gardens on each corner of the north side of Invalides. If you go out the north gate and go straight, you will cross the grassy Esplanades of Les Invalides and end up at the Alexander III bridge and the Petit and Grand Palaces across the Seine on the other side. If you turn left and go to the corner, you will find the lovely Square Santiago du Chili created in 1865 by Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand. A great place to escape the crowds and just relax.
If you go out the north entrance and turn right, you will find my favorite among the parks of Invalides, the Square d'Ajaccio also created in 1865 by the same famous engineer, Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand. There is a rather comical statue of Général Henri Geuraud (1847-1946) best known for his leadership of the French Fourth Army at the end of the World War I. There almost always seems to be a pigeon perching on his head. This garden is on the way to the Rodin museum and is almost always ignored by the thousands of tourists going somewhere else.
Both gardens among many others were designed by Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand (1817-1891). Because of his time spent in England, Napoleon III wanted the presence of gardens. Under Napoléon III, Alphand participated in the renovation of Paris directed by Baron Haussmann between 1852 and 1870, in the company of another engineer Eugène Belgrand and the landscape architect Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps. After the retirement of Haussmann, his successor, Léon Say, entrusted to Alphand the position of Director of Public Works of Paris. Under this title, Alphand continued the works of Haussmann. Alphand also became the Director of Water Works after the death of Belgrand in 1878. In particular, Alphand designed many public gardens and parks, including those of the Champs-Elysees, Bois de Boulogne (1854), Bois de Vincennes (1860), Monceau (1862), Buttes-Chaumont (1864–9), and Montsouris (1869). Of these, Buttes-Chaumont was the most elaborate, with a lake, streams, a waterfall, and artificial grottoes. He also designed the Trocadéro Gardens, carried out for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1878 and he oversaw the layouts and landscaping of the International Exhibitions in Paris in 1867, 1878, and 1889. Alphand wrote books on Les Promenades de Paris (1867-73) and L'Art des Jardins (1886). It is not too much to say that Alphand is the father of the park system of Paris that is loved by millions today.
SOS Attentats: http://www.sos-attentats.org/index.asp?lan_id=eng
Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand: http://www.napoleon.org/fr/salle_lecture/articles/files/Alphand_jardinierParis_Taittinger_RSN447_2003.asp
Parks and Gardens of the Second Empire: http://www.napoleon.org/fr/magazine/itineraires/files/parcs-jardins.asp