I am not a war enthusiast in the slightest, nor do I enjoy weapons of mass destruction. I am however, a HUGE history fan. One of the reasons we moved to France was to explore my heritage and culture. In the states I would try to read as much as I could on French History. In school all I ever learned about was the politics behind the French Revolution, a bit about Napoleon, and then of course France’s role during WWII.
The Musee de l’armee is not like any museum I have ever had the pleasure to visit. First of all you need to understand it’s origins. The Musee was actually a hospital established by the Sun King Louis XIV on the 24th of February 1670. This was a place where veterans were offered care and accommodations. This year, 2020, marks the 350th anniversary of the Hotel des Invalides. To this day it houses wounded warriors, and victims of terrorism. The Musee is a bit of a city within a city. Surrounded by what looks like a former moat, gates and tall brick walls, this is really a fortress.
With over 500,000 exhibits you can take in not only French history but history from Japan, Africa, England and even Germany.
I started my visit by looking at historical uniforms. Rich in details and colour these garments are a striking reminder of all the things that France and other countries have done (good and bad) on the battlefield.
Despite what others might find incredibly horrific, it is good to look upon the past to see what made you you. Or in this case where I come from. Some of the history I can be incredibly proud of, such as the building of Versailles, or the monument to Napoleon, or the Eiffel Tower. France is much more than fashion, and a really good hunk of cheese on bread! We are rich in culture and diversity.
We are surviors.
This year there is also an exhibit called the Comme En 40. This exhibit is all about France in 1940, giving you an insight into people’s lives during the second world war.
The period between France and Germany where they challenged each other at the board but did not fight became known as the “Phoney wars”.
There are videos that play alongside the collection that were filled during this time. One, in particular, I have seen before but when I saw it here at the Musee, it sent chills up my spine. You may have seen it, it is of Parisians traveling by whatever means they could with all their worldly goods as they fled Paris before the arrival of the Nazis.
My grandmother was one of those people.
Having grown up in the states there is a lot about this time period that I have not heard about or seen in history books. One, in particular, is of French political cartoons from this time. You can find these items included in the collection. You also get a chance to see how much of France was taken over during the occupation. There are actual posters and street signs that were posted around the city.
Another haunting time you get to observe are uniforms worn by men in youth camps and a sweater worn by a POW.
The last part of my visit ended with the pièce de résistance.
This place of rest for the former Emperor of France is incredible. The actual tomb itself is HUGE! To give you an idea, if you look at the picture above and to the right you will see an average sized human. I’ll wait. (Yes it is HUGE) I am pretty sure that several people could fit inside of this, along with Napoleon.
Visiting this place, after re-educating myself on the Emperor, really hits home. You realize just how much he meant to the French people. Remember he came into power after the revolution and reshaped France.
If you are into history, and into supporting those who are recuperating because of their sacrifice to the country, then I highly recommend heading to the musee de l’armee. The staff is super friendly, and don’t worry if you don’t speak French many of the employees do! OH and if you get hungry there is an amazing cafe next to the chapel where Napoleon is resting.
Again, I am not a supporter of any war and I do not support weapons of mass destruction. I enjoyed this visit as a history nerd because you don’t know who you are until you learned about your past!
While visiting Paris here is another site you should see, Travel Diary: Day Trip to Sacre-Coeur