France’s national military museum was founded in 1905 by the merger of two earlier institutions, the Artillery Museum, created during the French Revolution, and located at les Invalides from 1871, and the Historical Army Museum, established in 1896 and inspired by French displays at the Paris International Exhibition of 1889. The Hotel des Invalides was built in 1670-74 under the direction of the architect Libéral Bruant to care for the disabled or aged veterans of the armies of Louis IV. It included workshops where they could employ their time usefully by making uniforms, footwear and tapestries. The great domed church, the landmark which identifies les Invalides was built by Jules Hardouin de Mansart in 1676. It contains the tombs of Napoleon and Vauban (see Besançon) and those of many other eminent French generals.
The museum has very large collections of armour, swords, firearms and artillery. Its permanent exhibitions are displayed in galleries in contemporary style with many multi-media presentations., after a programme of refurbishment known as Athena II, inaugurated in 2000. They present a clear and uninterrupted account of French military history. The earlier sections include some of the museum’s rich collection of works of art, including the notable painting of the Duc d’Enghien receiving the capitulation of Dunkirk (Dunkerque) in 1646 by the artist Jean Tassell (1608-67). There are substantial sections on the First World War and on the role of the Free French forces under General Charles de Gaulle in the Second World War. Other parts of the Hotel des Invalides still provide a home for aged soldiers.