The Hotel des Invalides and Napoleon's Tomb

By Augustus J. C. Hare


We emerge from the Rue de Grenelle opposite the gardens to the north of the magnificent Hotel des Invalides, planned by Henri IV., and begun by Louis XIV. in 1671, as a refuge for old soldiers, who, before it was built, had to beg their bread on the streets.

The institution is under the management of the Minister of War, and nothing can be more comfortable than the life of its inmates. The number of these is now small; in the time of Napoleon I., when the institution was called the "Temple of Mars," it was enormous.

On the terrace in front of the building are a number of cannon, trophies taken in different campaigns. Standing before the hotel is the statue of Prince Eugene. On either side of the entrance are statues of Mars and Minerva by Coustou the younger. In the tympanum of the semicircle over the center of the facade is Louis XIV. on horseback. Behind the facade is a vast courtyard surrounded by open corridors lined with frescoes of the history of France; those of the early history on the left by Benedict Masson, 1865, have much interest. In the center of the facade opposite the entrance is the statue of Napoleon I. Beneath this is the approach to the Church of St. Louis, built 1671-79, from designs of Liberal Bruant, and in which many banners of victory give an effect of color to an otherwise colorless building….

The Tomb of Napoleon, under the magnificent dome of the Invalides, which was added to the original church by Jules Hardouin Mansart, and is treated as a separate building, is entered from the Place Vauban at the back, or by the left cloister and a court beyond.

On entering the vast interior, a huge circular space is seen to open, beneath the cupola painted by Charles de Lafosse and Jouvenet, and, in it, surrounded by caryatides and groups of moldering banners, the huge tomb of Finland granite, given by the Emperor Nicholas. Hither the remains of the great Emperor were brought back from St. Helena by the Prince de Joinville, in 1841, tho Louis Philippe, while adopting this popular measure as regarded the dead, renewed the sentence of exile against the living members of the Bonaparte family.

Four smaller cupolas encircle the great dome. In the first, on the right, is the tomb of Joseph Bonaparte. On the left are the tombs of Jerome Bonaparte, with a statue, and of his eldest son and the Princess Catherine of Wurtemberg. The other two cupolas are still empty.

Descending the steps behind the splendid baldacchino, we find black-marble tombs of Marshals Duroc and Bertrand guarding the approach to that of Napoleon I. His own words, taken from his will, appear in large letters over the entrance: "I desire my ashes to lie on the shores of the Seine among the people of France whom I loved so deeply."

The sentiment, the tomb, and the dome have a unique splendor. A white- marble statue of Napoleon I. by Stuart is in a black-marble chapel. His Austerlitz sword, the crown voted by Cherbourg, and colors taken in his different battles, were formerly shown in a "chapelle ardente."

[5] From "Walks In Paris." By arrangement with the publisher, David McKay. Copyright, 1880.