Visiting Napoleon’s Paris

Napoleon Bonaparte is still very much a controversial figure even almost 200 years after his death. Whether you regard him as a hero or a villain in history, he left behind a remarkable legacy, one that is most noticeably visible in Paris. Here is a list of sites in the French capital that enjoy a Napoleonic connection.

Les Invalides (National Residence of the Invalids)

Comprising a series of buildings, all of which are related to the military history of France as well as serving as a hospital and  retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. While Les Invalides has a vast array of interesting items to check out, most people come of course to see Napoleon’s tomb where he was buried under the dome of the Invalides with great pomp and circumstance in 1840, 19 years after he died in exile on the island of Elba. Visitors can view his elaborate tomb, a death mask that his personal physician, Francois Carlo Antommarchi made of him, and also the First Empire exhibit which displays things like the Turenne Salon, containing souvenirs of his including the sword from his Austerlitz victory and the hat he wore at Eylau.

Le Sacre de Napoleon (The Crowning of Napoleon)-Louvre Museum

The Louvre’s collection of artworks is mind boggling, this making it difficult to select “a” favorite. However, one I enjoy seeing the most is The Coronation of Napoleon, a painting done by Jacques-Louis David, the official painter of Napoleon. The painting has imposing dimensions, as it is almost 32 feet wide and 16 feet tall. The crowning and coronation of Napoleon as emperor and his first wife Josephine as empress took place at Notre Dame Cathedral. Although the location of the painting changed multiple times following its completion in 1807, it has been at the Louvre since 1889. While some paintings at the museum are hard to immediately locate due to their small size (Vermeer’s The Lacemaker), the immense size of Le Sacre de Napoleon makes it easy to spot. Well, that and the mobs of people around it too.

Pere La Chaise

Sadly, Pere La Chaise is one famous Parisian landmark I have never visited even though I have been to the city three times and enjoy visiting famous resting places of the dead. However, while many people know Pere La Chaise as the burial place of such greats as Oscar Wilde and Jimi Hendrix, its origins in the early 19th century began as a cemetery for one and all by Napoleon. As a consol he had declared that “Every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race of religion.” In keeping with that, the first person buried there was a five year old girl who was the daughter of a door bell-boy, hardly the illustrious Parisian.

Arc de Triomphe

Napoleon commissioned the arc in 1806 after his military victory at Austerlitz. Work on the structure was delayed and halted by various occurrences (the chief architect died, the Bourbon Restoration saw construction stopped) and so it was not finished until the mid-1830s. When Napoleon’s remains were brought back to France from Saint Helena in 1840, they passed under the Arc on the way to the former emperor’s final resting place at Les Invalides. The Arc honors those who fought and died for France including soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars, a series of wars declared against Napoleon’s French Empire by opposing coalitions. 

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  • Reply
    Travel Addicts
    January 3, 2013 at 2:18 am

    Your post reminds me of our recent trip to Paris and Napolean’s past. When we were there, there was a large group of re-enacters marching. It was something to see!
    As always, great blog!

  • Reply
    January 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Great blog…I do love Napoleonic history! The tomb is an impressive sight – I have found that no photo does justice to its massive size! The sewers of Paris are also connected to Napoleon. Much like with the cemetery, he wanted to make Paris a little more sanitary. There is actually a sewer museum/tour in Paris. I’ve never gone, but it’s on my bucket list (wow, that sounds odd…LOL)

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    January 4, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    @Travel Addicts
    Wow, I would have loved to have seen the Napoleonic era re-enacters. I’ve only ever seen ones in America. Thanks for providing the link to that post!

    I agree, it’s definitely something you need to see in order in order to grasp its immensity. And so ironic considering his short stature. I completely forgot about the sewers, that would have been another great addition to the post. It does not sound odd, it’s Paris & history!

  • Reply
    JoAnn M.
    January 5, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Great post! Napoleon was a complicated, but interesting figure in French history. He left a definite imprint on the look of Paris today.

    The Directoire and Empire styles were beautiful! Jacques-Louis David is one of my favorite artists! His involvement in French politics is fascinating. I love the theatricality of David’s history paintings! I hope to someday see “The Coronation of Napoleon” in person.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    January 6, 2013 at 3:18 am

    Yes, definitely complicated but completely and wholeheartedly interesting. He did a lot of wrong during his reigns and yet he also brought a lot of positive and modern innovation to the country too which as you said can still be seen today.

    I hope you get to see it too, just be forewarned for the mobs of people around it. I love the Louvre and yet the sheer amount of people, mon dieu sometimes ๐Ÿ™‚

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