I’ll be the first to admit that when a friend suggested that I visit the French Army Museum, also known as Musée de l’Armée, I was highly skeptical. I am very much a girly girl, so the thought of spending an afternoon looking at guns and cannons and war memorabilia seemed about as exciting as getting a root canal. However, I’m really glad I put aside my prejudices, because the Army Museum is a fascinating collection that people of all ages and genders can enjoy.
The museum is located inside a complex known as Les Invalides, a hospital and residence complex built by Louis XIV to care for disabled veterans. The complex still serves that purpose today, and as you walk the grounds you’re likely to see men in uniform as well as doctors and nurses. This building also houses part of France’s armory, which contains hundreds of suits of armor, cannons, and various weapons used in previous military campaigns.
Attached to Les Invalides is a large and gorgeous building capped with a stunning golden dome that can be seen throughout Paris. The building houses the church Église Saint-Louis des Invalides (which the descendants of Napoleon, who still carry the titles of Prince and Princess, are baptized and married in to this day). It also houses Napoleon’s tomb. Yes, THE Napoleon!
Napoleon’s tomb is actually more of an homage to Napoleon and the other great war leaders of France, including two of Napoleon’s brothers, his son Napoleon II, and the two generals who led France’s armies in both World Wars. Other great military leaders are honored with plaques, statues, and etchings throughout the tomb, and a crypt below holds the remains of some important military figures.
This is Napoleon’s tomb. It’s amazing to think that the remains of a man who had such a massive impact on world history are just inside that sarcophagus. Pictures can’t do it justice – it is absolutely huge, and befitting a man who accomplished so much. It’s also a pretty accurate reflection of Napoleon’s infamous ego, and it’s a bit funny to see how his self-importance is still strong even all these years later.
The museum is separated into wings that cover different time periods in French military history. The wing pictured above features suits of armor and weapons for all the various French kings and princes. There are several tiny suits of armor made for the infant and child princes. Most were solely display pieces, given as gifts from neighboring kingdoms, but apparently the young princes would join in on military exercises as young as 8 years old in order to prepare them for their future leadership.
The painting above is from the wings dedicated to the two world wars. These wings were really modern and well done, and I actually learned a lot about the wars. Although there is a significant emphasis on France’s participation and impacts (particularly the German invasion and occupation in WW2), there is plenty of information and exhibits on the other participating countries, including large sections devoted to the American army. A good deal of the information is provided in both French and English, so it’s friendly for English-speaking tourists.