Essential Architecture-  Paris

St. Louis des Invalides


Jules Hardouin Mansart


metro stations: Invalides, Latour-Maubourg or Varenne. 


1676 to 1691


French Renaissance




hospital chapel Church
  The north front of the Invalides: Mansart's dome above Bruant's pedimented central block
  The church at the Invalides, with its dome
  De La Fosse's allegories under the dome over Napoleon's tomb
  Napoleon's tomb
  Les Invalides and the Pantheon

Les Invalides in Paris, France consists of a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement containing museums and monuments, all relating to France's military history, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building's original purpose. It is also the burial site for some of France's war heroes.

King Louis XIV initiated the project by an order dated November 24, 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides, the hospital for invalids. The architect of Les Invalides was Libéral Bruant. The selected site was suburban in the 17th century. By the time the enlarged project was completed in 1676, the river front measured 196 metres and the complex had fifteen courtyards, the largest being the cour d'honneur ("court of honour") for military parades.

St Peter's Basilica
Then it was felt that the veterans required a chapel, in which Jules Hardouin Mansart assisted the aged Bruant, and finished it in 1679 to Bruant's designs after the elder architect's death. The chapel is known as Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides. Daily attendance was required.

Shortly after the veterans' chapel was completed, Louis XIV had Mansart construct a separate private royal chapel, often referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature (ill. right). Inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (left) the original for all Baroque domes; it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. Mansart raises his drum with an attic storey over its main cornice, and employs the paired columns motif in his more complicated rhythmic theme of ||u||uu||u||. The general program is sculptural but tightly integrated, rich but balanced, consistently carried through capping its vertical thrust firmly with a less emphatically ribbed and hemispherical dome. The domed chapel is centrally placed to dominate the court of honor. It was finished in 1708.

The interior of the dome (illustration, below right) was painted by Le Brun's disciple Charles de La Fosse (1636 - 1716) with a Baroque illusion of space seen from below (sotto in su perspective, the Italians were calling it). The painting was completed in 1705.


The most notable tomb at Les Invalides is that of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) in the crypt under Mansart's dome. Napoleon was initially interred on Saint Helena, but King Louis-Philippe arranged for his remains to be brought to St Jerome's Chapel in Paris in 1840. A renovation of Les Invalides took many years, but in 1861 Napoleon was moved to the most prominent location under the dome at Les Invalides.

A popular tourist site today, Les Invalides is also the burial site for some of Napoleon's family, for several military officers who served under him, and other French military heroes such as:

Joseph Bonaparte (1768 - 1844) -- Napoleon's eldest brother; 
Jerome Bonaparte (1784 - 1860) -- Napoleon's youngest brother; 
Napoleon II of France (1811 - 1832) -- son of Napoleon; 
Geraud Duroc (1774 - 1813) - Officer who fought with Napoleon; 
Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760 - 1836) Army captain, he is the author of France's national anthem, La Marseillaise; 
Ferdinand Foch (1851 - 1929) - Marshal of France during the First World War; 
Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne (1611- 1675), better known as the Viscount de Turenne, he was Marshal of France under King Louis XIV and is one of France's greatest military leaders. 
the heart of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban - the designer of Louis XIV's military fortifications 


On the north front of Les Invalides (illustration, left) Hardouin-Mansart's chapel dome is large enough to dominate the long facade yet harmonizes with Libéral Bruant's door under an arched pediment. To the north the courtyard (cour d'honneur), is extended by a wide public esplanade (Esplanade des Invalides) where the embassies of Austria and Finland are neighbors of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all forming one of the grand open spaces in the heart of Paris. At its far end, the Pont Alexandre III links this grand urbanistic axis with the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais. (the Pont des Invalides is next, downstream the Seine river).

The Hôpital des Invalides spurred William III of England to emulation, in the military Greenwich Hospital of 1694.

The buildings still comprise the Institution Nationale des Invalides (official site), a national institution for disabled war veterans. The institution comprises:

a retirement home 
a medical and surgical center 
a center for external medical consultations. 
The buildings also house the Musée de l'Armée, the military museum of the Army of France.
"Les Invalides, Paris, was initially designed by Libéral Bruant (1635-97) as a hospital for disabled army veterans and completed by 1677. However, even before the completion, Louis XIV was planning a second chapel on a grander sale. In 1680 J.H. Mansart produced the final design for the Dome des Invalides, a Greek cross inscribed in a square with an attached circular presbytery. It differs from its model, S. Peter's in Rome (q.v.), in its adoption of a circular crossing with vast free-standing columns and diagonal passages to the corner chapels. Externally, a towering effect is achieved by the pointed profile of the dome, the steeple-like lantern and the unusual insertion of a tall attic above the drum. Of the three shells of the dome two are visible internally. A coffered dome with a very wide oculus opens onto a further frescoed skin, an idea which was later developed by Vittone at Vallinotto (q.v.). 

— Sir Banister Fletcher. A History of Architecture. p948.