My first visit to Napoléon’s tomb was in the 1960s. It was a memorable visit because of the elderly gentleman who told us in great detail about the glorious life and victories of “l’Emperrrreurrrrr”. For over fifty years now I have been trying (occasionally) to say it that way, but it doesn’t work because my French pronunciation isn’t good enough and especially because I can’t work up anything approaching our guide’s impassioned imperial fervor.
Actually I don’t know if he was really a guide or just a guard or maybe one of the disabled veterans of the French army who lived and in fact still live in one wing of the Invalides. In any case, he was a true believer in the greatness of Napoléon I and seemed determined to wretch us degenerate modern visitors out of our lethargy and transport us back to those golden years in the early nineteenth century when Napoléon I was the Emperor of the French and the ruler of much of Europe.
Originally Napoléon was buried on the island of Sainte-Hélène, where he lived in exile for the last six years of his life. Nineteen years later his casket was dug up and transported to Paris, where it was interred with great pomp, first in St. Jerome’s chapel and later here in the Dôme des Invalides.
His original burial site on Sainte-Hélène still exists and is still maintained by the French government, though it is now of course empty. You can see it and read about it in this blog entry by The Rambling Wombat, who used to go by the name of Wabat on VirtualTourist.
On one of the side walls of the circle surrounding his tomb in Paris you can find this quotation from Napoléon, meaning roughly: “In all the places where my reign has passed through, it has left durable traces of its benefit.” (Which is not entirely false, despite all the suffering his wars caused. In Frankfurt am Main, for instance, he ordered that old city walls be torn down and replaced by a ring of parks, most of which still exist today. And his legal code was certainly an improvement over the feudal laws that were still in force in many parts of Europe until Napoléon came through.)
Location, aerial view and photo of Dôme des Invalides on monumentum.fr
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2017.
See also: Vauban in the Invalides