Dôme (56)

The church of the Dôme is one of the most spectacular in Paris due to its curious structure and for being the one of the most successful buildings of 17th-century French architecture. Its most attractive element is the one that refers to its name. Dôme in French means dome or cupola.

It was Louis XIV, the Sun King, who ordered the construction of a church within the military architectural complex of Les Invalides. In 1676 he called on the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart to take charge of the project. Inside Les Invalides there was already a church for the soldiers but the Dôme was to be of exclusive use of the King and would also house several royal tombs.

After the death of Louis XIV, the idea of burying the royal family in the Dôme, becoming a monument to the Bourbons was rejected. In 1840, 19 years after his death, Louis Philippe of Bourbon decided to move the remains of Napoleon I here from the island of Saint Helena. This gesture was highly symbolic and aimed to be an act of conciliation with the republicans and supporters of Bonaparte who were against the monarchy. 

It required 21 years to fit out and transform the church of the Dôme into a mausoleum, and it was finally on the 2nd of April 1861 that the remains of Napoleon were placed in a majestic red porphyry tomb designed by Joachim Visconti.

The tomb placed over a green granite plinth is adorned with crowns and laurels and inscriptions that recall the emperor’s victories. As a curiosity, if you want to see the emperor’s tomb you will have to incline your head a little. This way nobody looks at it haughtily or indifferently, everyone must do so with a slight reverence.

In the circular gallery you will be able to see a series of bas-reliefs carved by Simart and at the end of the crypt, over a tombstone beneath which lies the King of Rome, there is a statue of the Emperor carrying the imperial emblems.

The church also houses the sepulchres of two of Napoleon’s brothers. Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s elder brother who was King of Naples and of Spain, has his tomb in the side chapel to the right of the entrance and in the opposite chapel is the tomb of his younger brother, Jerome.

You will also be able to see the monument that Napoleon I commissioned in 1808 in honour of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the great architect and military engineer of Louis XIV, who died in 1707. The monument houses an urn that contains Vauban’s heart. His reclining figure that crowns the monument watched over by Science and War was the work of Antoine Etex.

Another really spectacular tomb with a large bronze figure is that of Marshal Ferdinand Foch made by Paul Landowski in 1937.  

Also buried here are some of Napoleon’s children as well as other illustrious figures of France such as Turenne and Rouget de Lisle, author of the Marseillaise, among others.

The interior of the church is a succession of circular spaces. The crypt is right in the centre, below the cupola and has eight glass ceilings. 

The decoration in this church is the work of the most important artists at the service of Louis XIV. Among them feature Charles de la Fosse, Jouvenet Coypel and Girardon. For example, if you look up where Napoleon’s tomb is, you will see the magnificent circular painting “The Glory of Paradise” with Saint Louis handing the sword to Christ, by Charles de la Fosse. 

And we leave to the end the spectacular gilded cupola, its 100 metres’ height being the most visible aspect of the church. Its golden colour was first applied 1715. And since its construction, the cupola has been gold-plated on five occasions. More than ten kilos of 24-karat gold distributed in more than 500,000 laminas were used the last time in 1989, and there were ten master gilders who were working on it.

Without doubt, an architectural marvel that you cannot miss.

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