A BIT OF HISTORY
By order of Louis XIV, a hospital and hospice for old and wounded soldiers was built in 1670. Libéral Bruant was the first architect to work on the Hôtel des Invalides. He designed the square building with the courtyard in the middle.
When Jules Hardouin-Mansar took over the project in 1676, he built a royal chapel – what is now the Dôme des Invalides – and a connecting place of worship for soldiers – that’s the Saint-Louis Cathedral. This design meant that King Louis XIV and his soldiers could enter through two separate entrances, as dictated by protocol, but still attend mass together. The pane of glass in the opening between the two parts of the building wasn’t added until 1870.
On 14 July 1789, the Hôtel des Invalides was stormed by rioters, who took the weapons stored there for the Storming of the Bastille. During the Revolution, the Dôme des Invalides became the temple of the god Mars. It took a great deal of effort to maintain the complex in its entirety, but it stood firm as a symbol of military and royal power.
In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to turn the Dôme des Invalides into a military resting place. Napoleon himself was initially buried on the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. But King Louis-Philippe had his remains transferred to the Dôme des Invalides in a ceremonial procession in 1840. Following extensive excavation and restoration work on the crypt led by architect Louis Tullius Joachim Visconti, Napoleon was finally laid to rest there in 1861. He had always wanted to be buried on the banks of the Seine…
The Hôtel des Invalides had also been serving as a museum since 1777. After the war between France and Germany in 1870, the building was used less and less as a military hospital and work to convert the space into museums began in earnest. The artillery museum was established in 1871 and the historical military museum followed 25 years later. The two museums were merged in 1905. The Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération was added in 1970. The military governor of Paris has been based at Les Invalides since 1897.
During World War I, the Hôtel des Invalides became a patriotic place. German trophies were displayed in the courtyard and there was no end of ceremonies on site. In 1940, the German army occupied the complex and made good use of the spoils in the military museum.
After the war had ended, extensive renovation work was carried out on every part of the building. The golden dome was restored in 1989, while the entire military museum was renovated in 2010. Ceremonies to honour fallen soldiers are still a regular occurrence at Les Invalides. The French Ministry of Defence is based there too. And, in fact, the original function as a hospital and hospice for wounded soldiers has also been preserved.