Daily Archives: June 24, 2011

A guide to Napoleon’s tomb

Napoleon's TombNapoleon’s Tomb by Celine Gautier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this beautifully illustrated little guidebook at the gift counter in Paris’s Church of the Dome, the place where Napoleon found his final rest. The guidebook doesn’t seem to be available online in English, although Amazon.fr has the original language version for sale. If you want the English version I review below, you’ll have to travel to Paris yourself. I can promise it will be worth the trip.

The booklet was written by Celine Gautier, head of the communication department at the Musee de l’Armee, which oversees the shrine. It was published in conjunction with Napoleon 1er magazine; it boggles my mind that there is a magazine solely focused on one period in French history.

The booklet begins with the repatriation of Napoleon’s body from his grave on St. Helena 19 years after his death. After his remains returned to Paris, they waited 20 more years for a resting place that could be considered worthy. Sections detail the contest which chose the tomb’s design, describe the elements and expense that make it what it is today, and examine the reliefs and sculptures that illustrate Napoleon’s less controversial achievements.

The only part of the book that I felt was lacking was the explanation of the “Imperial Necropolis.” Napoleon doesn’t sleep alone in his tomb. At the least, I could have used portraits to illustrate the capsule biographies of the “heroes” enshrined here. The single page of text hardly does justice to them, especially since their monuments are spectacular enough to have rated documentation here.

Other than that, this is a good overview of what goes into building a tomb fit for an emperor.

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