L’Hotel des Invalides, more commonly known as Les Invalides, is a complex of museums and monuments commemorating the military history of France. The grand gold-gilded dome of the church of Saint Louis des Invalides dominates the skyline in the 7th Arrondissement of Paris, towering over the neoclassical quadrangles of the ex-military hospital.
Building commenced in 1670 on the orders of King Louis 14th to help care for the wounded veterans of war. It remained in this function until the 20th century when the majority of the complex was taken over by museums dedicated to the various practices of war. The central location of Les Invalides, corrected by a broad symmetrical avenue to The Seine and Le Petit Palais, ensured that it was a key stage for many of the events in French history. On the eve of the French Revolution in 1789, the military stores were ransacked by rioters who used the weapons they found to storm the Bastille. Les Invalides carried even greater importance under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, the first Emperor of France. Napoleon visited soldiers in Les Invalides and it was here where his remains were returned after his death in exile in 1840. Napoleon’s imposing tomb, beneath the Baroque dome, is a key attraction of the complex today.
However, Les Invalides also of course has world-class military collections. The main courtyard is austerely surrounded by 60 bronze classical cannons, from various epochs of history. The Musée de l’Armée takes the visitor on a journey through medieval, renaissance and imperial arms and armour in one of the largest collections on earth. Particularly interesting exhibits include the ornate weaponry of the Crown Collections in the Royal Room and the foreign exhibits in the Oriental Cabinets.
The complex also hosts museums on the artefacts of the two world wars, and on French resistance leader Charles de Gaulle. Fittingly there is still a space dedicated to the original use as a hospital, looking after around 100 veterans and wounded soldiers from the modern armed forces.