A visit to Napoleon’s tomb

Written by Sam Van den Haute aka CheckOutSam

If you want to visit the grave of Napoleon Bonaparte, you have to go to the Hôtel des Invalides. Under the golden dome are the remains of this French emperor who so typically put his hand on his chest.
The life of Bonaparte was shrouded in splendor, and that's no different here either. The tomb of Napoleon is really impressive.

Sam Van den Haute CheckoutSam

Hi, I'm Sam, the blogger behind CheckOutSam!


Sam Van den Haute has been a full-time world traveler for ten years and has therefore gained a lot of travel and lifestyle inspiration on all continents. Do you still have questions after reading this blog? Ask them in the comments section or send me a message at [email protected] and I'll be happy to help you wherever I can!

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4.8/5 - (6 votes)

 

dome des invalides napoleon grave

Napoleon and the Dôme des Invalides

The Dôme des Invalides (or the Hôtel des Invalides) was founded in 1670 by Louis the fourteenth (the Sun King). This gigantic domain was a place where war veterans could live out the rest of their lives in peace. That remained so until 1905. From then on, the whole complex was quietly transformed into an (impressive) museum.

Napoleon thought this ‘reception center’ was a very good idea, and regularly visited his men. The original dome chapel (the building with the golden dome) was also transformed under its reign into a military pantheon, where important soldiers were given a place after their death.

Twenty years after Bonaparte’s death, the remains of Napoleon were sailed back from Saint Helena to France. In 1840, he was buried in the chapel of Saint-Jérôme, but it wasn’t until 1861 that he would get his spot at the bottom of the Dôme des Invalides.
In order to excavate this crypt, a new law even had to be written: the so-called ‘return of the ashes’. The law was quickly approved, and 21 years later sculptor Louis Viconti completed the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. His remains were then put into five different urns (you can compare it with the Russian babushka dolls). One is made from tin, one from mahogany, two from lead and one from ebony, in which Napoleon also lies. All these urns are places inside a beautifully sculpted piece of red porphyry.

tomb napoleon

Napoleon is buried in this majestic military pantheon.

Visit Napoleon’s tomb

To visit Napoleon’s tomb, you must first purchase tickets. Such a ticket costs €12, but you can also visit the rest of the Dôme des Invalides (all museums) for that price.
For €2.5 extra, you can get a guided tour in Napoleon’s grave. I think it’s worth the extra cost, because your visit becomes much more interesting and you’ll also get to know Napoleon a bit better.

After your tickets have been scanned, you may enter and are immediately welcomed by an awe-inspiring dome and tons of marble and other expensive rocks. At the front of the church you can see an impressive canopy. If you’ve ever been to the St. Peter’s Basilica, you’ll immediately notice similarities with the canopy of Bernini. The outside of this cathedral also looks a lot like the St. Peter’s Basilica. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, because les Invalides was in fact based on this building.

The beautiful statues and columns, however, are nothing compared to the crypt that lies beneath you. From the ground floor you can already see the sarcophagus of Napoleon. Anyone who looks at the tomb from here is actually bowing for this great man.
To visit the grave of Napoleon from up close, you have to go down. For that you have to walk down from the monumental staircase, but before you descend, I recommend to also study the bronze gate. Above the giant statues is a fragment from Napoleon’s will: “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine among the people of France whom I loved so much.”
The Dôme des Invalides is located close to the Seine, so in the end his will was finally granted.

The red sarcophagus stands on a green granite pedestal and contains the five boxes in which Bonaparte is buried. The man was buried in his official uniform and his infamous hat lies on his legs.

The sarcophagus seems pretty sober from the outside, but the whole crypt is absolutely the contrary of that. On the floor you see a giant mosaic that honors the most famous military victories of Napoleon, together with the twelve huge statues that stand next to the supporting pillars of the crypt.
At the back of the crypt you can also find a gigantic statue of Napoleon as a Roman emperor, with underneath the tomb of the Eagle’s Pupil, the son of Napoleon. The two brothers of Napoleon are also buried in this crypt.
In addition to his military victories, much attention is also paid to his civilian work. In ten bas-reliefs he is praised for his pacification of the nation, the centralization of political government, the establishment of the Council of State, the various law codes he helped write, the concordat, the imperial university, the court of auditors and the execution of his many ‘great works’.

entrance crypt napoleon dome des invalides

Access to Napoleon’s crypt is also impressive. At the top of this entrance gate you see the text from his will.

napoleon bonapartes tomb

The tomb of Napoleon. Impressive!

napoleon bonaparte grave site

The grave site of Napoleon Bonaparte is adorned with many luxuries and statues, but his close relatives are also burried here!

Visit the other parts of the Hôtel des Invalides

After your visit to the tomb of Napoleon, you should definitely visit (a few) exhibitions of the Hôtel des Invalides.
You’ll find a lot of interesting exhibitions from French history, and also a lot of things which date back to the time of Napoleon. In the museum you can also find several objects that once belonged to Napoleon.

If you’d like to know more about what you can see in the Dôme des Invalides, I recommend that you also read this article.

dome des invalides napoleons tomb

There is much more to see on the domain of the Dôme des Invalides. I recommend to see some exhibitions too.

8 Fun facts about Napoleon

  1. Everyone thinks that Napoleon was a small guy, but actually that’s not true. He would’ve been about 170 cm (5 ft 6 inches), and at that time that was even above average! The rumors of his small stature were scattered by the English, who portrayed him like a small man in the many cartoons and propaganda they spread about him. And all of these rumors eventually started living their own life…
  2. Napoleon was baptized and brought up as a Catholic, but he soon became an atheist. Although he wasn’t religious at all, he did find the power of organized religion impressive. As a result, he was very tolerant of many believers such as the Catholics, the Jews and the Muslims.
  3. After his defeat in Russia, Napoleon was exiled to Saint Helena. But he absolutely didn’t want this, and so he tried to commit suicide by poisoning himself. For years he had already been wearing a necklace containing a powerful poison. Probably the potency of it had already greatly been reduced, because when he finally used it, he only became very ill, and didn’t die as planned…
  4. The British were very afraid of Napoleon. Even when the man was exiled to Saint Helena (an island with very steep cliffs) there were still 2800 soldiers and 500 cannons who had to counteract any rescue or escape attempt by Napoleon. The seas around the island were even permanently guarded by 11 ships.
  5. Napoleon already died at the age of 51. It’s thought that he died of stomach cancer, but because his body had been so well preserved (after being buried for more than 19 years), critics also thought of arsenic poisoning. A side effect of this is that dead bodies are much better preserved. When he was examined in 1961, it also appeared that his hair contained a lot of arsenic. And of course the rumors only increased! In 2008, a final study was carried out, and that showed that his death was in fact completely natural.
  6. Napoleon absolutely didn’t like to lose. Not on military level, but also not with board games! Chess or card games, it didn’t matter. The French emperor liked to cheat as long as he won.
  7. Did you know that Napoleon introduced right-hand driving? In his time, the coachmen rode along the left side of the track, keeping their left hand on the reins and the right hand free to grab their weapon if necessary. Napoleon decided to turn that all over in order to surprise possible enemies. Successfully! Napoleon could never conquer Britain, so now you know why they’re still driving along the wrong side of the road. 😉
  8. To this day you can’t call a pig in France Napoleon. He recorded this law in his famous Code Napoléon. If you read George Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’, you may notice that the pig that was called ‘Napoleon’ is translated into ‘Cesar’ in the French book.
grave napoleon paris

Napoleon was a great man, so of course he got a very stately final resting place!

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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