Archive for December, 2012

Hardouin-Mansart’s Dôme des Invalides, Paris

On the north front of Les Invalides (illustration, right) Hardouin-Mansart’s chapel dome is large enough to dominate the long façade, yet harmonizes with 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 neighbours 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.

Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history. On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the Bastille later the same day. Napoleon was entombed under the dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840. In December 1894 the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was held before the main building, while his subsequent rehabilitation ceremony took place in a courtyard of the complex in 1906.
The building retained its primary function of a retirement home and hospital for military veterans (invalides) until the early twentieth century. In 1872 the musée d’artillerie (Artillery Museum) was located within the building to be joined by the musée historique des armées (Historical Museum of the Armies) in 1896. The two institutions were merged to form the present musée de l’armée in 1905. At the same time the veterans in residence were dispersed to smaller centres outside Paris. The reason was that the adoption of a mainly conscript army, after 1872, meant a substantial reduction in the numbers of veterans having the twenty or more years of military service formerly required to enter the Hôpital des Invalides. The building accordingly became too large for its original purpose. The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.

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