Built as a training facility for the military as well as to house war veterans who became a social problem in the seventeenth century, l’Hôtel des Invalides is one of the most magnificent buildings in Paris constructed under the reign of Louis XIV (the sun king who also built Versailles).
The architecture is Neo-classical, very austere (appropriate for a military building) and cold. However, architect Libéral Bruant (the mentor/master of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who designed a great deal of Versailles…it amazes me I still remember these details after taking the Art History final…2 months ago) designed a Baroque triumphal arch with an equestrian statue of Louis so the king could show his glory to Paris & by extension France, I suppose. It looks pretty awesome with a sculpture of a sun under it (well yeah sun king). My favourite part are the dormer windows decorated with military helmets (cute, right?).
And the back of the building holds a beautiful surprise.
Bruant build a chapel inside the hôtel particulier. But Louis complained it was too boring, too subdued…too military. So solution?
He commissioned Bruant’s protégé Hardouin-Mansart to build a glorious church.
Called l’Église du Dôme (church of the dome), the chapel is a spectacular example of French Baroque architecture. We suspect Louis designed to bury himself and his family.
What is really spectacular is the way Hardouin-Mansart designed the dome. It is composed of 3 different domes superimposed because one huge dome made from stone would cause the hold building to collapse under its weight. So he created a pierced stone dome that is the base, a smaller thinner and lighter dome on top. The third dome is extremely light and made almost exclusively of wood and thin sheets of metal (gilded with gold) that you see on the outside.
However the amazing thing is, you cannot tell it’s got 3 domes when you look from the inside. He also created some windows from the first to the second dome, hidden behind the painting to light up the mural painting on the dome. Because practically speaking, there was no electricity in the 17th century.
And of course, the architecture on the outside is amazing with the twin columns around the drum and entrance. The building as good rhythm too.
And inside…how pretty.
At the bottom, there’s also a little surprise:
Napoléon Bonaparte’s (the first) HUGE grave. Talk about a Napoleonic complex. And Louis probably turned a few times over in his grave.