Cemetery of the Week #20: Napoleon’s Tomb

Napoleon’s sarcophagus from the crypt

Napoleon’s Tomb
Hôtel National des Invalides
Esplanade des Invalides
129 rue de Grenelle
75007 Paris, France
Telephone: 1 44 42 38 77
Tomb completed: 1861
Number of burials, some of them partial: approximately 20
Open: Every day at 10 a.m. Closing hours vary with the season from 5 to 7 p.m.
Admission: 9 €. Children under 18 are free. Discounts are available to war veterans, groups with prior reservation, for late admissions, or with the Paris Visite card. The admission fee also gets you into the Musée de l’Armée to see Napoleon’s original headstone, his death mask, and his favorite horse, who has been taxidermied.

During his reign as emperor, Napoleon began repairs to the crypt of the Basilica of St. Denis, where he intended to eventually repose amidst the monuments to the historic kings of France. The kings themselves had been exiled to mass graves during the Revolution, so they no longer lay beneath the monuments disfigured by revolutionary sledgehammers. Even so, their former presence sanctified the place in the emperor’s mind.

Of course, Napoleon died in lonely exile on St. Helena, where he was buried in 1821 “close to a spring in the shadow of a few weeping willows.” In 1840, his remains, enclosed in an ebony coffin, were finally repatriated to Paris. He lay in state at Les Invalides for ten days. In February of the following year, he was moved into St. Jerome’s chapel in the Church of the Dome. He would wait 20 years for his final resting place to be ready.

Formerly, Napoleon himself had been interested in rehabilitating the Eglise du Dome, which was originally commissioned by Louis XIV to serve as a royal chapel so he could attend mass at the same time as the soldiers wounded in his service, who sat on the opposite side of an ornate wrought iron gate in the adjoining Church of St. Louis.

During the Revolution, when religion was anathema, the Church of the Dome had been ransacked. Afterward, it was made over into the Temple of Victory, then again as the Temple of Mars. In order to consecrate the building to the honor of those who’d died after serving France, Napoleon sponsored the “translation” of the body of Turenne (who died in 1675 while leading the French army during the Dutch Wars). Marshall Vauban (d. 1707) followed.

Now, in addition to the heroes of the past, the Emperor has a fair amount of company in his mortuary church. Two of his brothers and his son lie there, along with World War I Marshall Ferdinand Foch and Louis Lyautey, who served mainly in Morocco. Two of Napoleon’s closest aides guard the entrance to his tomb.  Nearby lie victims of an assassination attempt on King Louis Philippe in 1835.

Napoleon alone lies inside an open crypt sunk into the Royal Chapel’s floor. Above him, the cupola rises 90 meters, making the dome the second highest landmark in Paris (after the Eiffel Tower). He rests inside five coffins made of oak, mahogany, lead, tin, and ebony. His sarcophagus, often reported to be porphyry, is actually carved from aventurine quartzite, quarried in what is now Finland by order of Tsar Nicolas I. The five-meter-high sarcophagus stands on a base of green granite from the Vosges Mountains in eastern France.

It is a spectacular grave, not to be missed.

PS. My apologies for missing last week’s update. I was in the field, doing research.

Useful links:

The official website (in English)

Rick Steve’s Guide to Paris has helpful maps to guide you around Napoleon’s tomb and the adjacent Musée de l’Armée.

Hôtel National des Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb

Frommer’s review

My review of a guidebook to Napoleon’s Tomb

Other solo tombs on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #11: General Grant National Monument in New York City, New York

Cemetery of the Week #32: the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome, Italy

4 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #20: Napoleon’s Tomb

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