Pompous, severe, authoritarian, the 643 foot facade of the Hôtel des Invalides masks a masterpiece of French classical architecture. Designed by Libéral Bruand, it was completed in 1676 by Hardouin-Mansart, who later incorporated the impressive Eglise du Dôme, a commission by Louis XIV to reflect the greatness of his reign. For once the Sun King was thinking of others, as Les Invalides was designed to house old soldiers, many disabled and reduced in their old age to dire straits. Six thousand once resided there, today under a hundred remai.
The main attraction for time limited visitors is Napoleon’s tomb, which presides glorisously over the crypt of the Dôme. Twenty years after his death on the distant island of Saint Helena, Napoleon‘s body was returned to France and in 1861, like a Russian doll, it was encased in six layers of coffins crowning an immense granite base.
On entering Les Invalides through its Cour d’Honneur you will be following in the footsteps of many a military hero, including de Gaulle and Churchill. For the ins and outs of military history, head straight to the Musée de l’Armée. One of the world’s largest in this field, its extensive collections of weapons, armor, flags, uniforms, and paintings trace the evolution of warfare from prehistoric days to World War II.