Army Museum – Invalides

The Musée de l’Armée (Army Museum) is situated within the grounds of the historic Hôtel des Invalides (Les Invalides) complex, located next door to the Rodin Museum in the 7th arrondissement almost exactly halfway between the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d’Orsay. The Army Museum is home to a massive collection of historic weapons, military artifacts, and period pieces that chart the evolution of French warfare from the thirteenth century to World War II. It’s also the site of Napoleon’s tomb within the landmark Dôme des Invalides.

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History of the Army Museum

In the fall of 1670 King Louis XIV ordered the construction of a military hospital and state home for soldiers rendered infirm in the protection of the nation. This project—which would become the Hôtel des Invalides (literally “House of Invalids,” and more commonly called simply Les Invalides by locals)—was overseen by the architect Libéral Bruant. He would design the elaborate layout of the complex, ensuring the site featured over a dozen courtyards, including most prominently a main courtyard large enough to accommodate elaborate military ceremonies and parades. Bruant entrusted the plans for an on-site cathedral to his collaborator Jules Hardouin-Mansart.

The entire project wouldn’t be complete until 1706, roughly 35 years after it was launched. The site was stormed on July 14, 1789, when revolutionaries seized the facility’s sizable stock of weapons. In 1840, Napoleon’s remains were repatriated from the island of Saint Helena (where he died during exile) and placed in an ornamental tomb within the Les Invalides’ dome. In 1905, two local military-themed museums merged to establish the Army Museum at Les Invalides as we know it today.

Army Museum Highlights

The centerpiece of the Les Invalides complex—and thus arguably the biggest highlight of a visit to the Army Museum—is the Dôme des Invalides: the large golden dome looming high above the surrounding area. This Dome stands some 350 tall and dates to the late seventeenth century. It served as a royal chapel during the reign of King Louis XIV, but is best known today as Napoleon Bonaparte’s burial site. His son (who briefly ruled as Napoleon II) and two brothers are interred here, too.

The Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides is one of the museum’s most majestic spaces. Work began on this beautiful cathedral in 1676 under the guidance of the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. In its day, there were two places of worship within this cathedral: one reserved for royal services, and one reserved for those serving in the military. The Veteran’s Chapel is still maintained here as a cathedral for the French army.

The Cathedral opens outward to the museum’s main courtyard. This impressive outdoor space—which is enclosed on all four sides even as it measures approximately 350 feet long and 200 feet wide—is decorated with statues of French military heroes and adorned by numerous army-themed architectural flourishes and symbolic reliefs. Some 60 historic cannons line the courtyard, and it remains in use today for a variety of military ceremonies and special events.

More to See and Do at the Army Museum

Comprising an important component of the Les Invalides complex, the Army Museum is full of intriguing things to see and do. Keep reading for more details.

•Inside the heart of the Army Museum is an exhibit known as From Saint Louis to Louis XIV, which showcases one of the largest collections of antique weapons and armor found anywhere in Europe. The artifacts on display here are from between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. A nearby gallery features a similar collection of items drawn from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, namely paraphernalia from Napoleon’s many military campaigns.

•One of the Army Museum’s most popular permanent exhibits is devoted to World War I and World War II. Here, across eight distinct rooms arranged chronologically, visitors can learn all about the military history of France during these horrendous years of widespread carnage and destruction. The World Wars collection contains uniforms, medals, weapons, letters, maps, and more.

•An entire room of the Army Museum is devoted to honoring the memory of Charles de Gaulle. This multimedia gallery space pays tribute to the French president’s military and political careers through an assortment of interactive materials, and occasionally hosts temporary exhibitions on an assortment of topics related to the life and times of this famed French leader.

•Your ticket to the Army Museum also grants you admission to another institution located at Les Invalides: the Museum of the Order of the Liberation. This small-but-engaging museum tells the story of those who fought to free France from Nazi rule between 1940 and 1945 as part of the French Liberation Army.

•The Museum of Relief Maps is another fascinating small museum at Les Invalides accessible to visitors with an Army Museum ticket. Here guests can examine dozens of miniature military models created with painstaking precision between the years 1668 and 1875.

Why the Army Museum Should Be on Your Must-See List

Any visitor to Paris in possession of a passion for military history will want to put the Army Museum at Les Invalides high on their must-see list. This expansive museum covers over 700 years of French military history, and its wide-ranging collection of artifacts contains one of the most impressive selections of historic weapons and armor found anywhere in the world. Even those Paris visitors not riveted by army artifacts or historical weapons will enjoy the chance to experience one of the city’s major architectural landmarks—Les Invalides and its memorable Dôme—for themselves.