One of the first things you notice when you approach Les Invalides is the row of cannons facing outward across a small moat. These are not little cannons, they are for the most part giant beasts requiring iron trolleys just to stay in place. These pieces are part of the Musée de l'Artillerie (Museum of Artillery, founded in 1785 in the aftermath of the French Revolution and expanded under Napoleon). It was moved into the Hôtel des Invalides in 1871, immediately following the Franco-Prussian War and the proclamation of the Third Republic. The collection was augmented by collections from the National Library, the Louvre, the Artillery of Vincennes, the Hôtel des Monnaies and many private collections. Another institution called the Musée Historique de l'Armée (Historical Museum of the Army) was created in 1896 following the World Fair. The two were merged in 1905 into the Musée de l'Armee.
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.