The Dôme des Invalides, 107 metres (351 ft) tall and decorated with 12.65 kilograms (27.9 lb) of gold leaf, is an important landmark in Paris.
Louis XIV initiated the project by an order dated 24 November 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and disabled (invalide) soldiers. The initial architect of Les Invalides was
Libéral Bruant. The selected site was in the then suburban plain of Grenelle (plaine de Grenelle). By the time the enlarged project was completed in 1676, the façade fronting the
Seine measured 196 metres (643 ft) in width, and the complex had fifteen courtyards, the largest being the
cour d'honneur designed for military parades.
The church-and-chapel complex of the Invalides was designed by
Jules Hardouin-Mansart from 1676, taking inspiration from his great-uncle
François Mansart's design for a
Chapelle des Bourbons [
fr] to be built behind the chancel of the
Basilica of Saint-Denis, the French monarch's necropolis since ancient times. Several projects were submitted in the mid-1660s by both Mansart and
Gian Lorenzo Bernini who was residing in Paris at the time. Mansart's second project is very close to Hardouin-Mansart's concept of the Royal Chapel or Dome Church at Les Invalides, both in terms of its architecture and of its relationship with the adjacent church. Architectural historian
Allan Braham has hypothesized that the domed chapel was initially intended to be a new burial place for the Bourbon Dynasty, but that project was not implemented. Instead, the massive building was designated as private chapel of the monarch, from which he could attend church service without having to mingle with the disabled veterans. It was barely used for that purpose. The Dôme des Invalides remains as one of the prime exemplars of
French Baroque architecture, at 107 metres (351 ft) high, and also as an iconic symbol of France's
Meanwhile, Hardouin-Mansart assisted the aged Bruant on the chapel, which was finished to Bruant's design after the latter's death in 1697. This chapel is known as the church of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides. Daily attendance of the veterans in the church services was required. Shortly after the veterans' chapel was started, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel, now known as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. The Dome chapel was finished in 1706.
François Mansart's second project for the Chapel of the Bourbons in Saint-Denis
Louis XIV ordering the construction of Les Invalides
Napoleon I visiting the infirmary of Les Invalides
Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history. On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the
Bastille later the same day. Napoleon was entombed under the Dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840.
The separation between the two churches was reinforced in the 19th century with the erection of
Napoleon's tomb, the creation of the two separate altars and then with the construction of a glass wall between the two chapels.
The building retained its primary function of a retirement home and hospital for military veterans (invalides) until the early twentieth century. In 1872 the musée d'artillerie (Artillery Museum) was located within the building to be joined by the musée historique des armées (Historical Museum of the Armies) in 1896. The two institutions were merged to form the present musée de l'armée in 1905. At the same time the veterans in residence were dispersed to smaller centres outside Paris. The reason was that the adoption of a mainly conscript army, after 1872, meant a substantial reduction in the numbers of veterans having the twenty or more years of military service formerly required to enter the Hôpital des Invalides. The building accordingly became too large for its original purpose. The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.
When the Army Museum at Les Invalides was founded in 1905, the veterans' chapel was placed under its administrative control. It is now the cathedral of the
Diocese of the French Armed Forces, officially known as Cathédrale Saint-Louis-des-Invalides.
Office national des anciens combattants et victimes de guerre
1. Cour d'honneur
2. Cour d'Angoulème
3. Cour d'Austerlitz
4. Cour de la Victoire
5. Cour de la Valeur
6. Cour de Mars
7. Cour de Toulon
8. Cour de Nismes
9. Cour de Metz
10. Cour de l'Infirmerie
11. Cour d'Oran
12. Cour de la Paix
13. Cour d'Arles
14. Cour d'Alger
15. Cour Saint-Louis
16. Cour Saint-Joseph
17. Cour Saint-Jacques
The north front of the Invalides: Hardouin-Mansart's Dome above Bruant's pedimented central block
On the north front of Les Invalides, Hardouin-Mansart's Dome chapel is large enough to dominate the long façade, yet harmonizes with Bruant's door under an arched pediment. To the north, the courtyard (cour d'honneur) is extended by a wide public esplanade (Esplanade des Invalides) where the embassies of Austria and Finland are neighbors of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all forming one of the grand open spaces in the heart of Paris. At its far end, the
Pont Alexandre III links this grand urbanistic axis with the
Petit Palais and the
Grand Palais. The
Pont des Invalides is next, downstream the Seine river.
The buildings still comprise the Institution Nationale des Invalides, a national institution for
disabledwar veterans. The institution comprises:
a retirement home
a medical and surgical centre
a centre for external medical consultations.
Aerial view of Les Invalides
Northern frontage of the complex, overlooks the esplanade
The northern portal of the complex, with Louis XIV with horse on the pediment
The Dome chapel became a military necropolis when
Napoleon in September 1800 designated it for the relocation of the tomb of Louis XIV's celebrated general
Turenne, followed in 1807–1808 by
Vauban. In 1835, the underground gallery below the church received the remains of 14 victims of the
Giuseppe Marco Fieschi's failed assassination attempt on
Louis-Philippe I. The major development came with the building's designation to become
Napoleon's tomb by a law of 10 June 1840, as part of the political project of the retour des cendres orchestrated by king
Louis-Philippe I and his minister
Adolphe Thiers (the reference to Napoleon's cendres or "ashes" is actually to his mortal remains, as he had not been cremated). The creation of the crypt and of Napoleon's massive sarcophagus took twenty years to complete and was finished in 1861. By then, it was emperor
Napoleon III who was in power and oversaw the ceremony of the transfer of his remains from a chapel of the church to the crypt beneath the dome.