Les Invalides: An Aristocratic Tribute

Paris has a varying cityscape, taking you along the antiquated French boulevards, over to new-age museums, galleries, designer stores, wine bars and bistros. It’s a city where vintage meets contemporary at every corner; whether it be the fashion raging behind the glass canvases of the Louis Vuitton art centre, or wrought-iron Eiffel Tower gracing the visual appearance of the city. From terraces laced-with woven-chairs to streets lined-with monumental icons, Paris owns an impeccable display of French characterization. Irrespective of whether you are touring Arc de Triomphe, La Seine Musicale, Notre Dame Cathedral, Les Invalides or other prominent landmarks, you will always find yourself surrounded by fashionistas, collectors and literary buffs. Paris is a city where art is in the air and life is in the flair!

Les Invalides

During my Paris vacation, I spent one entire day promenading in the footsteps of “Napoleon Bonaparte,” one of the most influential military leaders of France. I started by visiting the spectacular 16th-century Les Invalides, Napoleon’s final resting place and home to army museum. Then I toured the delightful Chateau de Malmaison, where Napoleon spent time with Josephine, the love of his life; ultimately concluding the day-tour at the majestic Arc de Triomphe, the monument that celebrates his remarkable victories. Les Invalides is a fantastic complex of buildings is commonly-identified with Napoleon and the military history of France.

This site was ‘originally’ built as a retirement home for war veterans, though later, monuments, museums, and a hospital were also, added. Here I toured the Musée de l’Armée, Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, and the Dôme Des Invalides, with tombs of France’s war heroes, including Napoleon. On 15th December 1840; upon transferring Napoleon’ coffin to the chapel, France celebrated national funeral, and pronounced, the domed-church as the resting place of the French statesman and military leader. In 1940, Hitler bought the body of his son Napolean II to Paris and buried him next to his father.

Officially the national residence of the Invalids, Les Invalides (Hôtel national des Invalides), holds an important place in French history. Way back in the 16th-century, Louis XIV curated a home for war heroes. His designs suggested an entombment site, along with, a healing centre and a retirement home. Thus the architecture emphasises on the elements of reliefs and military history. Liberal Bruant, the architect who designed, the blueprint of Les Invalides envisioned the site in the Plaine de Grenelle area. His plan was approved, and the gold-domed building was finished, in 1676, with fifteen courtyards and a remarkable river view.

Embraced with 12 kg of real gold, Les Invalides pursues tales of French armies, invasion stories and WWII Normandy touchdowns. It was also, the largest monument in the French court of honour to host military parades. Take the staircase to enter the crypt, guarded by a heavy bronze door with two statues, followed by an inscription from Napoleon’s will. It reads, “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine among the people of France whom I so much loved.” In the restoration room, you will find the reconstruction of Napoleon’s drawing room decorated with his belongings, favourite furniture and the exhibits of the isle of Elba and Saint Helena.

At Domed Invalides, I learnt about the glorious life of Napolean and his journey of becoming an Emperor from a military genius. Wherein, at Chateau of Malmaison, the home of Josephine de Beauharnais, I got a glimpse into his private life. Napolean dearly loved Josephine (his 1st-wife), and would typically escape to this ‘bucolic’ countryside mansion to be with her. This exceptionally well-preserved chateau has a beautiful rose garden, once tended by Josephine. At Malmaison, Josephine is everywhere! However, despite all the love, Napoleon divorced her in 1810 as she was unable to give him an heir. Following separation, Josephine continued to stay at Malmaison, while Napolean’s reign began to collapse, and he was finally exiled, in 1814.

After visiting Malmaison, I took a bus to Arc de Triomphe, located, say-about twelve minutes from Les Invalides. Built to blazon the glorious victories of Napolean, the Arc de Triomphe sits atop the most-prominent boulevard in the world. Ascend right to the top to follow sweeping views of Paris, including bird’s-eye-view of the Eiffel Tower. I had a great time looking inside the public and personal life of Napolean, and I concluded this trip by spending the rest of my evening at Champs Elysées. The museum remains open between 10 AM – 6 PM, except the first Monday of every month. You may visit the Tomb and Dome at the same time. Through 15th June to 15th September, visit timings are extended until 7 PM.

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