Our class met at the Varenne Metro Station and began a tour of the Invalides. Upon arrival, it became obvious that this space’s main purpose was to memorialize France’s military efforts and conquests. The row of cannons and large iron gates emulate a stronghold and help transport the visitor back in time. Built by Louis XIV, the area began as a home and hospital for injured soldiers and ultimately became most famous as the final resting place of the great Napoleon Bonaparte. The building is incredibly ornate and historically multi-layered; it seems like it was always created for Napoleon. The Invalides serves as a perfect parallel to Napoleon’s legacy and honors his military contributions to the nation. The gilded dome exhibits this notion as well because both entities are notably extravagant and stand out from their peers. Like the Pantheon, the Invalides embodies a dichotomy between religion and secularism. One of the first things you notice when entering the area is the huge golden cross and altar. Angels surround his tomb; the perimeter of the bottom floor features images and famous quotes of Napoleon depicted as a Roman god. Napoleon’s role as Emperor of France brought the country closer to its current government. One could not come without the other. This continuous religious adoration made the entire building feel very full as opposed to the notable emptiness of the Pantheon. The other great military men buried there seemed almost nonexistent. The Invalides is the perfect example of a modern day mystic writing pad. According to Freud, the Mystic Pad is a slab of dark brown wax with a paper edging complete with a thin transparent sheet that is firmly secured at the top. To utilize the mystic pad, one must write on the celluloid and merely raise the celluloid to erase. Some traces of the past remain there forever. The building showcases the space as a modern military pantheon and museum while remnants of its past as a hospital for France’s armed forces and military fortress remain evident. Each of these uses has served as historical benchmarks throughout the Invalides’ history and ultimately creates one cohesive element.
Later that evening, we reconvened at to watch La Nuit Aux Invalides (A Night at the Invalides). It was very easily the most incredible light and laser show that I have ever seen. We watched the building spring to life as the major moments, which have forever left their mark on Paris, were restored upon the walls. This show served as another example of how this space continues to be repurposed to commemorate France’s past and the path created for its forthcoming future.