Marking time at the Musée de l’Armée, Paris

The Musée de l’Armée in Paris keeps time with its own history with a collection of wonderfully ornate sundials on the north wall of the Cour d’Honneur. The institution of the Musée de l’Armée was established as recently as 1905 but the original building was created as L’Hôtel des Invalides between 1670 and 1676.

L’Hôtel des Invalides

The museum is held in a group of buildings known collectively as L’Hôtel des Invalides. Conceived by Louis XIV as a place for aging or injured soldiers to convalesce, they were built between 1670 and 1676. In 1871 a museum of weaponry (Musée de l’artillerie)was moved into the building followed in 1905 by the Musée Historique de l’Armée, bringing together two large collections under the collective name Musée de l’Armée.

The Musée de l’Armée in Paris

The museum itself is huge and is considered the third-largest arms museum in the world. You can spend many hours walking through the exhibits ranging from 13th-century armor through to the two world wars. The museum does a great job of displaying and interpreting the collections including honoring the contribution of the many French colonial fighters that supported the French army over the centuries. The museum is best entered from the north (the entrance facing the river Seine). Walking through the neatly manicured lawns and topiary, punctuated with heavy weaponry captured by the French during centuries of wars, gives a sense of both the grandeur and the brutal reality of what the museum curates and exhibits.

Cour d’Honner

Having gotten through the formalities of purchasing tickets you pass through into the Cour d’Honneur. This is the largest courtyard of the complex and was originally designed to hold military parades. High on the south wall, a statue of Napoleon stands resolute reviewing the ghosts of armies long gone. The parade ground of the courtyard is lined with 200 years of artillery, originally collected during the French Revolution. In addition to illuminating the more violent instruments of war, the Cour d’Honneur has played its humanitarian role in history. We see evidence of this in an article on the Musée de l’Armée blog. The article shows an image from 1915 when ninety ambulances donated by the British to the Red Cross in France were housed in the Cour d’Honneur and were visited by the President of the French Republic, Raymond Poincaré. Much like the Chelsea Pensioner institution in England, L’Hôtel des Invalides has housed many sick and aging soldiers. Having taken in the museum’s collections and seen the complex mix of hostility and hospice played out in L’Hôtel des Invalides over the years it’s worth standing for a moment in the Cour d’Honner, with Napolean gazing down at you, and reviewing the north wall. The beautifully detailed sundials cast a shadow of time across more than 300 years history of man at his best and at his worst.

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