Paris History: Les Invalides

Just one street away to the northeast is the Hôtel des Invalides, founded by Louis XIV to shelter 7,000 aged or crippled formed soldiers. The enormous range of buildings was completed in five years (1671-76). The gold-plated dome (six kilograms of gold leaf were involved) that rises above the hospital buildings belong to the Church of Saint-Louis (1675-1706), designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. The architect employed a style known in France as Jesuit, since it derives from the Jesuits first church in Rome, built in 1568. The churches of the Académie Française (French Academy), the Val-de-Grâce Hospital, the Sorbonne, as well as three others in Paris, all of the 17th century, followed this style. By a freer user of the classical elements, the French made it something recognizably Parisian.

In the chapels of Saint-Louis are the tombs of Napoleons brothers Joseph and Jérôme, of his son (whose body was returned from Vienna in 1940 by Adolf Hitler), and of the marshals of France. Immediately beneath the cupola is a red porphyry sarcophagus that covers the six coffins enclosing the body of Napoleon I, which was returned from Saint-Helena in 1840 through the efforts of King Louis-Philippe. Napoleons uniforms, personal arms, and death bed are displayed in the rich Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum) at the front of the Invalides. Fewer than 100 pensioners now live at the hospital, which is used as a paraplegic centre.

The grassy, tree-lined Esplanade des Invalides (810 feet wide) slopes gently for 1,410 feet to the Quai d'Orsay and the Pont Alexandre III. The first stone for the bridge was laid in 1897 by Alexanders son, Tsar Nicholas II. A steel span with upper works of stone, it embodies the Gay Nineties, la Belle Epoque, solid, sumptuous, and luxuriant, with its pomposity mocked by its own gaiety. Finished in time for the International Exposition of 1900, it leads to two faded souvenirs of that years fair, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. Both are still used for seasonal painting salons and major visiting art exhibits, and the Grand Palais also shelters overflow classes from the Sorbonne and a science museum.

Image For millions around the world the name Paris connotes an image of a mile-long stretch of the Seine between the Pont du Carrousel and the Pont Sully. The citys most celebrated bridge, its most famous museum, its most admired Gothic churches are all found here in the ancient heart of the capital. Here, too, are the quayside bookstalls, the bird and flower markets, and the sempiternal anglers of the Seine.

© 14 Oct 2002, Nicolas Pioch - Top - Up - Info
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