Recently, there have been a spate of people on the TooFatLardies Yahoo Group mentioning how good the Musée de l’Armée in Paris is.
Reading their recommendations sparked off an idea in my head: I had a few days holiday left over from last year that I had to take before the end of March and, never having “done” Paris before, thought I’d take the opportunity to do so, with the Musée being one of my main objectives.
A quick surf of the net secured me Eurostar tickets and three nights in a 3* hotel for only £240. With such a short time available, I planned what I was going to do with military efficiency, including pre-buying a Paris Museum pass and a Metro pass. For those interested, I ended up almost exactly cost-neutral on the Museum Pass, but really appreciated not having to queue for tickets anywhere; and used the Metro constantly: things in Paris are a lot further apart than the maps suggest!
I’d allocated Tuesday late morning for the Musée. The plan was to get up early and visit the Eiffel Tower first thing, then walk to Les Invalides, which is where the army museum is.
The Tower is amazing (get there forty-five minutes before opening time: I did so, and was first in the queue with, by the time it opened, some 500 people behind me!) so it was mid-morning by the time I arrived at Les Invalides.
I entered from the river side of the building, which means that I ended up in the central courtyard almost immediately. It’s impressive, with various bits of kit scattered around the walkway around the outside.
Pictured here is a Renault FT-17 tank, the world’s “first modern tank” that set the standard for AFV design i.e. tracks at the side, turret on top. What amazed me was how small it was, and how fragile the front hatch looked.
There are five main things that I’d recommend seeing at the Musée:
- the arms and armour galleries
- Louis XIV to Napoleon III (obviously including Napoleon I)
- the WW1 and WW2 galleries
- the Plans-Reliefs
- Napoleon’s Tomb
Old Armour and Weapons: 13th to 17th Century
This is an amazing collection of the aforementioned old armour and weapons. Most impressive are the galleries of suits of full- or half-armour made for royalty or other noble-types. Also very impressive are the glass-fronted storerooms of full suits of armour such as the one pictured here. These are just the storerooms, not the main exhibits, and look rather chillingly like a scene from a Cyberman attack!
There are also a lot of weapons on show. A lot. This sort of thing is a particular interest of mine, and I spent a lot of time wandering round reminding myself of the difference between a morion and a sallet, and attempting to remember the difference between a glaive and a guisarme.
It’s nicely laid out in a rough circuit, and well worth doing.
Louis XIV to Napoleon III
Loved this gallery as well. Loads of uniforms on show, including an absolutely incredible gallery full of original Napoleonic cavalry uniforms (see pictures, below).
They also have loads and loads of hand guns and long arms, really depicting the transition from matchlock to wheel-lock to flint-lock etc. Lots of swords as well.
The accompanying history was also good. I made a point of watching their video displays of various important battles of the period: imagine a series of large coffee-tables with a screen instead of a surface, with the battles playing out on top of them with commentary through headphones.
Finally, I also liked all the bric-a-brac, with my favourite being dispatch cases printed with the name of the Marshall whose orders they contained.
I took a break for lunch at this point. I would highly recommend using the on-site restaurant. Here’s a picture of my lunch: delicious!
The Two World Wars
It’s worth differentiating between theWW1 and the WW2 exhibits, as they have a very different feel to them.
The WW1 bit is a bit like a continuation of the Napoleonic bit, above. Lots of original uniforms (amazing how colourful they were…at the beginning of the war!) and weapons on display, and lots of history written from a very French point of view.
WW1 isn’t really my thing, so I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed these galleries.
The WW2 bit, unsurprisingly maybe, has a very different feel to it. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but the other parts of the museum are displayed and written from the inside, as it were, whereas these galleries felt far more like you were reading something written from the outside. There’s quite a bit on the Free French army, which was very interesting, but again to me the best bits were the various pieces of equipment on show. I can really understand how big a Solothurn anti-tank rifle is now and, funnily enough, how small an MP-4 looks.
The attic contains a visually astounding collection of Plans-Relief.
What’s a Plan-Relief I hear you ask? It’s basically a wargames table designed to be used as a map…or a map that looks like a wargames table: take your pick.
These are huge, and are displayed in an attic that seems to go on for miles. It’s a spooky place, and a must-see.
Displayed as the centrepiece of the inside of the Dôme des Invalides, this is impressive both inside and out.
Do try and pick a time that isn’t full of school kids so you can appreciate the full majesty of the place. The school parties tend to clump, and are usually only in there for ten minutes or so, so if there are some in there when you arrive, go have another beer at the restaurant and wait until you seem them streaming back past you into the museum proper before visiting it yourself.
So, there you have it: an absolute recommendation for the Paris’ Musée de l’Armée. Had I had time, I would almost certainly of gone back and had another look around. There really is just too much good stuff on display to take it all in first time around.