The Hotel des Invalides was originally founded by Louis XIV to give a shelter to 7,000 aged or crippled soldiers of the french royal army. This church is part of a large establishment built to house disabled veterans. Although it is generally classical in style, particularly in the rectilinearity of the lower facade, the church does have some baroque elements. There is a dynamic movement toward the center, which culminates in the central pediment.
In addition, the dome has some surprises. Unlike St. Peter's dome, its loose model, it arranges the windows in an unusual way--with pairs and single windows alternating instead of a continuous row of windows separated by buttresses or piers. Normally a window would mark the main axis; here the main axis has a pair of columns that separates the paired windows. The lantern is a square in plan but it is rotated so that its corner marks the main axis.
In the chapels of Saint-Louis are the tombs of Napoleons brothers Joseph and Jérôme, of his son and of the marshals of France. Immediately beneath the cupola is a red porphyry sarcophagus that covers the six coffins enclosing the body of Napoleon I, which was returned from Saint-Helena in 1840 through the efforts of King Louis-Philippe. Napoleons uniforms, personal arms, and death bed are displayed in the rich Musée de l'Armée at the front of the Invalides. Fewer than 100 pensioners now live at the hospital, which is used as a paraplegic centre.
The grassy, tree-lined Esplanade des Invalides (810 feet wide) slopes gently for 1,410 feet to the Quai d'Orsay and the Pont Alexandre III. The first stone for the bridge was laid in 1897 by Alexanders son, Tsar Nicholas II. A steel span with upper works of stone, it embodies the Gay Nineties, la Belle Epoque, solid, sumptuous, and luxuriant, with its pomposity mocked by its own gaiety. Finished in time for the International Exposition of 1900, it leads to two faded souvenirs of that years fair, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. Both are still used for seasonal painting salons and major visiting art exhibits, and the Grand Palais also shelters overflow classes from the Sorbonne and a science museum.