Les Invalides: Napoleon's Tomb

1/03/2013 10:03:00 PM ·

In life he was charismatic and often amusing, obsessed with his stature, and perplexed by other's falsified perceptions of his attitude and vision. Even in death, Napoleon would have expected more than Les Invalides, because after all, this tomb, by no means, would ever represent the man, but the vision he had for himself. Immortality!

Napoleon's Tomb

After the investigation into the many exploits of Louis XIV, an infirmary was set up to care for the elderly, as well as soldiers unable to care for themselves. Like Versailles, the Sun King’s projects inspired the many buildings and fifteen courtyards that were constructed in a grand scale, with the larger of the courtyards being used for military training and parades.

The Eglise St. Louis des Invalides was the grand initiative of Bruant and his successor Mansart. On display within the walls of this masterpiece are the many flags captured by the French army.

Soon after, Louis XIV constructed the Eglise du Dome, built in the vision of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. A section was cleared from the north of the central building to the River Seine and the Pont Alexandre III. It was here that the most recognizable and influential leaders of the military were laid to rest, including Napoleon Bonaparte.

"I wish that my ashes rest on the edges of the Seine, with these French people that I like so much".

This was the inscription, while not precisely on the tomb of this infamous leader, located close to the resting place. The tomb of Napoleon, with all its grandeur and imperialistic characteristics, was completed 40 years after the his death.


Napoleon lost his life on the Island of Helena where he was exiled, only six years after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The decision for his final resting place fell into the hands of the British, who in fact, wanted to keep the memories of his crusades fresh.

It wasn't until 1840 that the body of Napoleon made its way home to Paris, where a state funeral took place. He was then placed in a temporary tomb, while Louis Visconti designed an elaborate monument at Les Invalides.

This was not, however, the vision that Napoleon had intended for his final resting place. Although, to many people, the Dome des Invalides was an grand enough place for military veterans, so it should suffice for Napoleon.



Initially, the plan was to construct an open domed area so that visitors could gaze down upon the pillared chamber from ground level.

Napoleon's body, in true latter-day Pharaoh tradition, was placed in 6 nested coffins : one made of soft iron, another of mahogany, two others of lead, one of ebony and finally the last one of oak.
The outer sarcophagus was made from red porphyry, which rested upon a piece of green granite.

Porphyry is the Greek word for purple, and purple being the color of royalty, it wasn't at all surprising that this material was used in building projects in Imperial Rome. It does seem fitting, as many historians believed that Napoleon considered himself a king, to have his body placed within such an elusive and recognizable monument.

In fact, over the tomb stands a statue by Simart representing Napoleon as a Roman emperor. Nearby, a laurel crown is adorned with the principal battles he fought and twelve statues by Pradier along the walls represent his major campaigns. Napoleon is accompanied by his family members in the dome; including his son together with France’s most eminent military leaders.


Les Invalides is France's greatest military museum and it's one of the largest in the world. It is without a doubt an interesting, yet haunting reminder of the turbulent past of France.

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