Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Napoleon at the Army Museum - small man, big tomb

So continuing with this months visit of museums, I yesterday visited Museé de L’Armée – Tombeau de Napoléon. To be honest I just picked this cause it was one of the first on the list and it was open on a Tuesday. I wasn’t really sure where this was and thinking I would be able to view the exhibition quickly in an hour and then maybe nip off to the D’orsay after, this was in retrospect a little premature.  Also worth the mention is the lovely cycle route along the Seine I enjoyed on the way to the museum. 

Well lets just say that my low expectations made this one of the coolest museum visits I have been on in a while. First of all turns out the front entrance of the museum looks like this.

So keeping that in mind I wouldn’t put it in the small and modest category of Museum. The building itself is called the Hotel des Invalide, and is that giant building with the gold dome you would have spotted by the Eiffel tower on several occasions. I'm think the buildings original purpose was to do with the army and soldiers who had been injured in wars, pretty much the fancy French equivalent of the Royal hospital Kilmanham in Dublin, but I’m not sure.

After a quick wander around through the cannon courtyard I reached the ticket office at the southern entrance to the building complex. Thanks to a separate ticket office at the front for groups and many automatic ticket machines, there was absolutely no queue, and my free ticket was handed over quickly and with a smile.

So with the ticket and a guide brochure in hand I proceeded to start my tour of the museum with Napoleons tomb. Since it was closest. Entering in to the chapel you instantly notice the amazing painted and gilded dome, before looking down into a pit in the centre of the church and realising that the giant slab of expensive looking red stone is in fact Napoleon. A quick walk around and I’m out and to be honest the thing I was thinking about most at the time was how did the masons manage to quarry and sculpt such a large piece of stone, and then carry it into this chapel.
Without letting this become too epic a blog entry I’m just going to summarise the rest of the exhibitions.

The medieval section with the Ancient Armour and Arms of the 13th – 17th Century was next on the list. This collection was very impressive and the museum holds more coats of arms than 5 Robin Hood films, as well as a very impressive collection of or old guns crossbows and knives. The thing i enjoyed the most was being able to see the intricate detailing of some of the more elaborate coats of arms up close. This clearly was and age where labour was cheap.

Next up the Section dedicated to the two World Wars, this was also surprisingly enjoyable. Especially as it the reasons for the wars and the tactics were all explained for dummies. The way I would describe it would be a history lesson really well and easily explained with loads of videos, maps, uniforms, posters, guns, grenades and photos. Seriously though as an amateur to the history of the world wars I came out feeling very informed and even, dare I say it, moved by the sheer vastness of the whole event. The clips from D-Day were very moving.

After this though I barely had any time left so a quick stroll led me across the canon courtyard to the Napoleonic part. But wait what's this, the Museum of Plan Relief is located in the attic, cha CHING, getting 2 museums done in one day. So I zipped up to the attic and managed to get a quick look at half the models on display before being kicked out. Lets just say they were awesome and the lighting was quite atmospheric, apparently to preserve the models.

So at the end of that I was wrecked, I’d easily spent over 3 hours in the museum. All worth it, and definitely would consider going back.

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