A bit of history
France used to have to fight many wars, and because of all this violence more and more soldiers became disabled. Until 1671 there had been no place where the old and handicapped soldiers could recover, and so the Sun King decided to change this with the construction of this majestic domain. Already in 1674 the first war veterans arrived. Three years later, a church was also built on the estate so that the troubled soldiers could tell their thoughts to God and the priests.
Soon there were 4000 ex-members of the army living here. The entire area therefore became a city in itself. The citizens had their own (military) and religious rules, and the veterans worked as shoemakers, in tapestries, or they decorated books with winding and graceful letters and drawings.
Due to its strategic location, the Hôtel des Invalides also appeared regularly in later history. On July 14, 1789 all guns and muskets of the Dôme des Invalides were pillaged. On the same day, these weapons would be used for the famous storming of the Bastille. In 1840 Napoleon was buried under the golden dome of les Invalides.
From 1905, old and wounded soldiers were sent to smaller centers to heal and live there. This decision came partly because the French army had shrunk a lot and there was no need for such a gigantic domain for only a few veterans. Since then, les invalides became a museum. The ‘Musée de l’armée Invalides’, where many parts of the French warfare and its history is displayed.
Les Invalides museum tickets and opening hours
You can enter the domain completely free of charge, but if you want to see the museums and the tomb of Napoleon you have to pay. A single ticket costs €12. Official tickets can also be booked online.
I definitely recommend taking a guided tour of the domain. That costs €14.50 with the entrance ticket included. Only €2.50 more expensive and much more interesting!
Don’t forget that citizens of the European Union of less than 26 years will receive a free ticket on presentation of their identity card. Young people under the age of eighteen may also enter for free. Naturally, veterans and soldiers also receive a discount. They pay €10, and when they arrive in uniform they can enter for free.
Everyone has to pay extra for a tour.
If you have a Paris Museum Pass, you can visit the Dôme des Invalides for free too. With such a pass you get free access to 60+ museums and attractions in Paris. A Paris Museum Pass is valid for 2, 4 or 6 days and starts at €53 per person.
» All tours and tickets in Paris
- From 1 April to 31 October, the domain is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
From 1 November to 31 March, the les Invalides museum is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm in the evening.
The grounds are closed on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December. In the summer months (July and August), Napoleon’s tomb is exceptionally open every day until 7:00 pm.
What can be seen at the les Invalides museum (Musée de l’armée Invalides)?
There used to be more than 4000 soldiers living here. So you can imagine that this is a gigantic domain. There is also a lot to see in the Musée de l’armée Invalides. Below is a brief summary of all museums.
You can visit the courtyard without a ticket. This cobblestone square has a gigantic collection of artillery from more than 200 years old. There are about 60 bronze cannons and about fifteen howitzers and mortars, mainly from the time of Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Artillery may not seem very impressive as no projectiles are being fired, but I recommend to take a closer look. These weapons are actually real works of art! Almost all guns are decorated with beautiful heroic and mythological scenes.
The mortars and howitzers look like little guns compared to the guns, but did you know that these weapons could shoot over a distance of more than six kilometers (3,75 miles)?
The old department: old weapons and equipment
Personally, I found this one of the most interesting and impressive parts of the Hôtel des Invalides. In this area you’ll find one of the largest European collections of weapons and armor from the military history from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century.
You start with an overview of the royal weapon equipment. Horses, knights and royals wore beautiful armor and weapons! They were inlaid with gold and valuable emeralds and diamonds and are significantly more detailed than the other items that you can see in the museum. In addition to this royal scrap heap, you can also see some beautiful paintings that take over the entire wall. Be sure to look for the armor of Louis XIV. You can even see his steel clothes from when he was only a child!
Further in this exhibition, you’ll also find a lot of metal armor from feudal, Italian, Habsburg and Ottoman wars. What you certainly shouldn’t skip is the exhibition of weapon equipment from outside of Europe.
The oriental armor, knives and guns are exceptionally beautiful. You can see pieces from among others the Persians, Mongolians, Chinese, Japanese and Indonesians. Especially the armour of the Japanese is worth a look. It reminded me of ‘The Last Samurai’!
The new department: from Louis XIV to Napoleon III (1643 to 1870)
France has a very rich history. Two key figures in it are, of course, Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte. In this exhibition space you’ll find the military, social, political and industrial history of France. In this gigantic collection you can find beautiful costumes and equipment of (high-ranking) soldiers, decorations, luxuriously executed weapons, horse harnesses but also decadent paintings, musical instruments and personal items from, among others, Napoleon and his marshals.
There is a lot to see here. I found it quite interesting to see which clothing was worn by the military during that period (not only by the French, there are also many examples of equipment from their opponents!). There are so many men dressed in original clothing and military outfits, that it almost feels like you’re walking between a real army!
Be sure to look at the special weapons. I couldn’t believe my eyes sometimes! For example, I saw a musket of a few meters long… How did they ever manage to use that?!
Cabinet of extraordinary items
This exhibition is the smallest. That is actually logical, because it’s full of small miniature objects and valuable things.
In the first room you can find more than 5000 tiny army figurines, perfectly fitted with the military attire of that time. Directly opposite are the smallest cannonry that I’ve ever seen. You could almost call them cute! These scale models of artillery are really special. The weapons were only used for decoration and that of course makes sense! They are beautifully decorated with gold and other valuable materials. Although many of the cannons in the courtyard are already very sophisticated, they can’t compete with the handiwork of these miniature copies!
In the second room you’ll find a small collection of (strange) musical instruments. Most were once used for military purposes, but I have to admit that I had no idea what many of these weird instruments were actually used for or how they would sound…
The contemporary department: the two world wars (1871 to 1945)
Of course, the French army also participated in both world wars. Here, too, you’ll find French and foreign uniforms, weapons and everyday items from the military. In addition, you also see larger objects such as cars. I also found the many photos, letters and pamflets very impressive. With these, you can imagine the wars a little better. Much attention is also given to the years after the (second) world war. I found the ‘De Lattre room’ extremely interesting because it also talks about the imminent cold war and the discovery of the concentration camps.
The tomb of Napoleon
The reason for most tourists to visit the Hôtel des Invalides or the Dôme des Invalides is of course Napoleon’s grave.
During the reign of Bonaparte, this cathedral was used as a military pantheon. In it, important soldiers (such as Turrene and Vauban) were accommodated because they had meant so much to the French Empire. When Napoleon I died in 1821, he was first buried very soberly on the island of St. Helena. However, King Louis-Phiippe decided in 1840 to have the notorious French emperor transferred to the French mainland to give him a stately funeral. To give his body the glory it deserved, great works were carried out in the pantheon. A large part of the floor was broken down and broken out to give Napoleon a special place in it. It took until 1861 before Napoleon was finally put to rest. Besides the rather impressive urn, you can see all kinds of references to the military and social highlights of Napoleon.
Near the former emperor of France, his son, the Eaglet, and his two brothers were also buried.
Want to read more about this beautiful grave? Or would you like to see some more photos? Be sure to read this article too.
Charles de Gaulle Monument
Charles de Gaulle is of course a hero of the French Republic as well. In this exhibition you’ll see an audiovisual presentation of what the man has meant for the country. Actually you don’t see any – or very few – objects here, but mainly photos, audio and video clips and a lot of text. Don’t forget that you have to pay an audio guide for this exhibition.
The Saint-Louis des Invalides Cathedral
This majestic cathedral was built at the time of the Sun King. Soon it was decided to split the church in two, so a part was reserved for the veterans and a part for the king and his guests. Today, a glass wall separates the chapel from the altar of the domed church (where Napoleon I is buried).
You clearly see French nationalism in this church. There are dozens of French flags, there are some beautiful paintings that reflect part of French history and you here non-stop patriotic tunes.
Be sure to check out the hundreds of trophies taken from the enemy by the French. Originally these were hanged upside down in the Notre-Dame cathedral (to ridicule the enemy), but during the French Revolution they were brought here for their safety. Once there were more than 1500, but it was decided to destroy most of them so that they couldn’t fall back into the hands of the enemy.
Some interesting facts
- In order to be allowed in at at the Hôtel des Invalides as a soldier, you must’ve had twenty years of service. If you were disabled before that time, you weren’t so lucky…
- The front of the Hôtel des Invalides is no less than 196 meters (643 ft) long and in total it has 15 courtyards. That was necessary too, because thousands of soldiers stayed here for years.
- In total there is 8000 square meters (26.246 square feet) of museums to discover, with more than 500,000 objects. So take your time to visit the les Invalides museum… You’ll need it!
- The cathedral of the Hôtel des Invalides is inspired by the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. You’ll notice the many similarities right away!
- The impressive golden dome is no less than 107 meters (351 ft) high!
- Some historians think it’s not Napoleon that was buried here. When he was exhumed in St. Helena after 19 years, his body was still perfectly preserved. And that’s a bit suspicious, don’t you think?
- In 1989 the dome and decorations were refurbished with some new gold. 12 kilos of gold had to be used for this. At that time the price of one kilo of gold was about €7700. In total, around €92,400 was spent on a tiny bit of decoration… But the results is stunning!
Are you following me on Social Media?
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.