Whether you’ve realized it or not, if you’ve been to Paris you’ve probably seen the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, at least from a distance. Napoleon is buried inside the Dôme Des Invalides at Les Invalides (officially the Hôtel National des Invalides). The bright, gold dome of the chapel reaches high into the sky and stands out on the Paris landscape like a glittering beacon.
An entrance ticket to Les Invalides allows visitors passage into the Dôme Des Invalides, as well as the Musée de l’Armée, the national military museum of France. (Definitely worth a visit, especially since it’s included in your ticket price to see Napoleon’s tomb!) Children are allowed into Les Invalides for free, but adults will need to buy a ticket for €9.50.
Napoleon’s tomb At Les Invalides is made up of two levels, the upper of which is where the entrance and exit is located. The upper floor is characterized by exquisite murals, gold detailing, and intricately-carved sculptures covering every inch of available space. These details, combined with the floor to ceiling altar, make for a very dazzling, over-the-top display. It appears that even in death, Napoleon is still compensating for his small stature.
The tomb shares a space with the chapel inside Les Invalides, and from behind the altar a small glimpse is provided into it. It’s included in your ticket price, so if you’ve got time, you should check it out. Also from this level, visitors can peer down below to where Napoleon’s sarcophagus is displayed in the center of a large circle. To get a closer look, you’ll need to take the stairs down to the bottom level, so that’s where we’re headed next!
After descending the stairs, you’ll come to the entrance of the crypt guarded by two giant statues with pretty massive feet. (I got some weird looks while I was taking that photo!) The door itself is made of cannons from Austerlitz, the site of one of Napoleon’s greatest victories.
Underneath the center of the dome, amid a colorful mosaic and resting atop a granite pedestal, sits Napoleon’s tomb. His body is laid to rest inside a nest of six coffins of iron, mahogany, lead, ebony, and oak.
Surrounding the sarcophagus are twelve figures mounted on pillars representing Napoleon’s military victories, and on the walls lining the circular path around the tomb are reliefs depicting different eras in Napoleon’s reign. This is probably where purchasing a multimedia guide would have come in handy. My knowledge of Napoleon’s life is limited to the small amount I learned in World History class in high school, so it would have been nice to know what exactly was going on in these scenes. (The guides come in eight languages and provide information for all the areas inside Les Invalides, not just the tomb. There’s also a special guide for kids.)
Tickets to Les Invalides are available for purchase online, but long lines don’t seem to be an issue at this museum like they are elsewhere in Paris. We made it in with only a ten minute wait. While the main attraction inside the Dôme Des Invalides is certainly Napoleon’s tomb itself, there’s more to admire here than just that. It truly is a burial fit for a king, or I suppose in Napoleon’s case, an emperor!
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