Napoleon’s Paris

A military genius and astute strategist, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) had a meteoric rise to prominence and left an indelible mark on French history. After becoming First Consul in a coup d’état in 1799, he went on to become Emperor of France in 1804 and took the name of ‘Napoleon 1er’.

His great works and achievements shaped the architecture of the capital and its surroundings, and many monuments still bear witness to his  battles and military adventures

Here is a selection;

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe


1. Arc de Triomphe  

Napoleon laid the first stone of this monumental triumphal arch on 15 August 1806 to celebrate the military victories of his Grande Armée (‘Great Army’). The monument was not completed until 30 years later -in 1836 During the Bourbon Restoration, construction was halted, and it would not be completed until the reign of King Louis-Philippe .

The vault, decorated with Roman-style coffering, bears the names of the 128 battles , and those of the generals who took part in them. Situated on Place Charles de Gaulle, this monumental triumphal arch offers a 360° panoramic view of the capital from its summit .

On 15 December 1840, Napoleon’s remains were brought back to France from Saint Helena, and the cortège  passed under it on their way to the Emperor’s final resting place at Les Invalides.

Following its construction, the Arc de Triomphe became the rallying point of French troops parading after successful military campaigns and for the annual Bastille Day military parade. Famous victory marches around or under the Arc have included the Germans in 1871, the French in 1919, the Germans in 1940, and the French and Allies in 1944  and 1945. After the interment of the Unknown Soldier, however, all military parades (including the aforementioned post-1919) have avoided marching through the actual arch.


2.The Hôtel National des Invalides, with its imposing golden dome rising to over 110 metres, was built in the 17th century by Louis XIV to house and treat wounded soldiers. It also tended to several thousand soldiers from Napoleon’s armies. Napoleon  visited them on several occasions. His tomb can be found in a crypt in the Cathedral  of Saint-Louis, also constructed under the reign of Louis XIV. Napoleon, who died in exile on the island of St Helena, was laid to rest here in a giant red quartzite sarcophagus which was finally  constructed nearly forty years later in 1861.


Cathedral of Saint - Louis
Cathedral of Saint – Louis

This military monument now houses the Musée de l’Armée, one of the world’s largest collections of military art and history. Uniforms, weapons, trophies, and decorations dating from the Directoire and First Empire periods are on display. There is a chronological journey  through Napoleon’s campaigns, battles, conquests, and defeats.


3. Church of La Madeleine 

Church of Le Madeleine
Church of Le Madeleine

On 2 December 1806, Napoleon signed a decree for the construction of a temple to the glory of the French Armies, which later became the church of La Madeleine. The Emperor chose the design presented by the architect Vignon, who built it in the style of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, in Athens. This imposing religious building, with its monumental bronze doors and majestic Corinthian columns, is close to the Place de la Concorde. Richly decorated with marble, frescoes, and mosaics, it houses the famous grand organ by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.


4. Pont des Arts:

Napoleon commissioned a number of infrastructure projects in Paris and took great pride in French scientific and cultural achievements .To connect the Louvre, then known as the ‘Palais des Arts’, and the Collège des Quatre-Nations (now the Institut de France), Napoleon decreed the construction of a new kind of footbridge. The first metallic bridge in France, and the third in the world, was inaugurated in November 1803. Today, it is frequented by musicians, painters, and walkers. The view of the Ile de la Cité and the Pont Neuf on one side and the Louvre and Orsay museums on the other is outstanding!


Destination – France