Les Invalides

Les Invalides (55)

Les Invalides, translated as the Hotel of the Invalids, is a building that King Louis XIV had built by royal edict. It was in 1670 when work started on the building with the aim of receiving soldiers retiring from active service due to being wounded in combat or for being too old to fight. It was something of a retirement home for soldiers who had spilt their blood in defence of the king. To be admitted a minimum of ten years active service was required.

For the Paris of the time, the works were carried out with great speed. The building was completed in just three years. The project was created by the architect Bruant. The first guests entered their rooms in October 1674. Just twenty-five years later it was occupied by 4,000 retired soldiers. They did not spend their days playing the odd game of dominos or recounting battles, however. Praying and attending mass were obligatory. And the rules were strictly adhered to. Here the guests spent their time learning or working in different workshops, for example they weaved uniforms, made shoes, did upholstery work or ceramics.

Not everybody was suitable for work, though. The more seriously injured were placed in the Hospital of Les Invalides, situated in the southeast. This part of the building still functions as a surgical hospital whereas the old rooms of the interned soldiers are now a museum.

The façade of the classical and harmonious hotel building measures 196 metres in length. The pediment represents the Sun King. You will appreciate that each of the dormer windows is decorated in the form of a different trophy. In the main entrance stands a head of Hercules. The Honour Courtyard is still used for military parades and here there is a statue of Napoleon made by Seurre.

Approximately in the centre of Les Invalides is the Church of the Dôme and the Cathedral of Saint Luis des Invalides. The church cupola, with its bright golden colour, shows us the place where Napoleon Bonaparte is buried. Its one hundred metres height mean that it does not go unnoticed. 

And if the church of the Dôme was the royal church, which was used privately by Louis XIV, the Church of Saint Luis was the soldiers’ church. It is known by this name too, built between 1679 and 1708 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart according to the design by Bruand. The hotel residents were its congregation. 

In its imposing and bright interior are conserved several military trophies obtained by France and you can see a crypt in which some high-ranking military officials as well as some governors of the hotel are buried.

In the complex of Les Invalides as well as some magnificent gardens designed by De Cotte in 1704, flanked by bronze cannons from the 17th and 18th centuries, there are currently some museums: 

Among them features the Navy Museum, one of the most important art and military history museums in the world. It documents military history from the Stone Age to the Second World War. 

Next to that is the Royal Gallery of Relief Maps, a marvellous collection of military models of forts and cities. Also very close is the Museum of the Order of the Liberation dedicated to Charles de Gaulle.

A little further on is, without doubt, one of the museums you really should see: the Rodin Museum. It contains many examples of his key works.

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