Main Courtyard, artillery collections

photo des canons présentés dans la cour d'honneur de l'hotel national des Invalides


The Main Courtyard is the central area of the Hôtel National des Invalides site, in which many events unfolded and where a large part of the artillery collections is displayed. As the heir to the Artillery Museum (whose collections were gathered together during the Revolution and which opened at Les Invalides in 1871), the Army Museum has one of the most impressive collections of artillery pieces.

The Main Courtyard of the Hôtel des Invalides presents an exceptional battery of 60 French classical bronze cannons, which are the jewels of the artillery collections of the Army Museum, and a dozen howitzers and mortars.

These pieces trace 200 years of the history of French field artillery, along an itinerary which enables visitors to discover how the equipment was manufactured, its role and the epic of great French artillerymen.

French classical cannons

photo d'un canon français de l'époque de Louis XIV

The itinerary begins with the first models of cannons, which were developed by the Keller brothers in 1666. These large-calibre cannons were used in sieges against fortified towns during the wars of Louis XIV and made the successes of Vauban possible. French classical cannons were highly popular, along with a few adaptations.

Next, a series of thirty cannons of the royal ordinance of 1732 are presented. All of these prestigious pieces are decorated with heraldic and mythological ornamentations, as laid down by regulations.

The Gribeauval and Valée systems

Photo d'un canon du système Gribeauval exposé dans la cour d'honneur de l'hotel national des Invalides

From 1764, the cannons of the Gribeauval system - named after its creator - replaced French classical cannons. This new artillery, which was easier to handle and better organized, excelled during the revolutionary and imperial wars. Napoleon Bonaparte, who trained as an artilleryman, was able to put it to wonderful use, notably during the two Italian campaigns and the battles of Friedland and Wagram.

From 1825, the Valée systems succeeded the Gribeauval system. The cannons of the two systems were more functional and had fewer decorations than French classical cannons.

Mortars and Howitzers

Photo d'un mortier exposé dans la cour d'honneur de l'hotel national des Invalides

The eight mortars presented were made for the sieges of the revolutionary and imperial wars. On the corners of the courtyard, two large howitzers are exhibited; they were designed to bombard Cadiz, when the French army besieged this city in 1810. They could fire shells from a distance of nearly six kilometres, an unprecedented performance at the time.