Napoleon’s Tomb

So as Les Invalides is just across the road from The Musee Rodin we thought we’d pay our respects to le petit corporal.

When you walk in the first thing the eye is drawn to is the gaudy baroqueness of the high altar which had to be redesigned to fit Napoleon’s tomb into the church. Some how that seems entirely in keeping with Napoleon’s life.

As you walk across the floor of the church the circular crypt opens up in front of you to present a heroically sized sarcophagus. With it’s unexpectedly raw red colour and modernist style this no dusty reliquary for a long dead monarch. There’s an unexpected and unsettling feeling of presence.

Descend on a circular staircase to two vast bronze doors, forged from cannons captured at Austerlitz and flanked by statues, and above their lintel you’ll see an extract from Napoleon’s will, “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine among the people of France whom I so much loved.”.

On the floor of the crypt a mosaic represents the great battles of the Emperor while arranged around the circular gallery ten white marble bas-reliefs by Simart illustrate the achievements of his reign.

Walking slowly around the gallery and reading those reliefs leaves you with the sense of what can be achieved with will, genius, effort and the right amount of luck.

Of course what can also be achieved includes the long bleeding out of the spanish peninsular war and the catastrophe of the Russian campaign.

While the French government have attempted to turn the church into a memorial for other great French military leaders it remains (for me at least) resolutely the last resting place of Napoleon.

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