Les Invalides, Paris – Napoleon Finally Laid To Rest

Les Invalides, Paris – Napoleon Finally Laid To Rest

Immediately under the dome at Les Invalides in Paris lies the body of Napoleon Bonaparte. It has lain here since 1861 in an imposing marble tomb, decorated with volutes atop a rectangular slab.

The ambitious French emperor, who won and lost a series of military campaigns, had wanted to be buried in Paris. In his will, he stated that he wished to be interred on the banks of the River Seine. Napoleon’s mortal remains may not be immediately adjacent to the river. But in 1861 the French king, Louis-Philippe, went to the extent of positioning him in prime position under a recently completed dome by the architect Louis Visconti. The complex of buildings that is Les Invalides, including the chapel dome under which Napoleon is buried, is clearly visible from the Seine.

Today, Les Invalides consists of museums and monuments relating to the military history of France as well as a retirement home and hospital for war veterans. Also buried here are family members and officers who served under Napoleon.

This was in fact Napoleon’s third place of burial since his death forty years earlier in 1821. Previously, until the dome was complete, he had lain in nearby Saint-Jerome’s Chapel, after a state funeral in 1840. The funeral was the culmination of an episode known as the “Retour des Cendres” (“Return of the Ashes”), involving the exhumation and shipping of Napoleon’s body from the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic.

One might be tempted to think that Saint Helena was merely the latest territory to be grabbed in Napoleon’s imperial strategy. In fact, his career had been over in 1815 after defeat at the Battle of Waterloo and he had been exiled to this remote island to spend the last six years of his life, living at Longwood House.

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The island of Saint Helena, two thousand kilometres from any major landmass, must have been a desolate place for Napoleon to spend his last days. In death, Napoleon was interred with dignity under the chapel dome at Les Invalides, Paris.