Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Thursday afternoon in Paris: armor, weapons, and a tomb
Once my husband and I had been dropped off by a shuttle van to our hotel in the heart of Paris we walked everywhere. Our legs and feet were sore from all of our walking. Part of that was intentional on my part so that I could get a sense of exactly the size of medieval Paris.
That meant that we had walked solidly for three days in Paris. On Thursday I wanted to expand our horizons and visit a museum that was well outside the circumscribed areas once delineated by the fortifications of Philippe Auguste. I wanted to visit the Musée de l’Armée and see their collection of weapons and armor. Looking at the map, it did not appear to be all that far, but I knew how exhausted I would be if we tried walking there and back in one day.
Instead we used the Métro for the first time. We had read all about the reputation of the
Métro as being a haven for pickpockets and were therefore a little wary. We wanted to blend in as much as possible and not seem like we had the word "Tourists" emblazoned across our foreheads. That included talking as little as possible, and when we did speak we used as much French as we could.
We snuck peaks at our map lest we get lost, but we stashed it away quickly.
The museum is in a large complex of the Hôtel des Invalides which includes an active hospital and Napoleon's tomb. It is near the Eiffel Tower and this is as close as we came to seeing that landmark.
The buildings are surrounded by a large dry moat which means you are forced to use the marked entrances and cannot just cut across the lawn as a shortcut. You have to walk the loooong way around without exception.
Here is the courtyard and you can see the dome over Napoleon's tomb.
The museum holding the armor was on one of the wings and while I knew it probably would not hold much ancient armor, I wanted to see what they had. They have hundreds of suits of armor and once you get accustomed to viewing them, you start gravitating to the unusual ones. Such as this armor decked out with imagery of lions. Notice the helmet and the shoulders.
They also had armor for children. Or as I like to call it: "cub armor."
It is hard to imagine the expense of this kind of armor to begin with and then to contemplate how quickly children outgrow their clothes. It seems downright foolhardy to purchase such things. You cannot simply let down a hemline or such when they grow an inch or two. Here is another example of cub armor.
I would assume that they were created for important ceremonies, because otherwise it would seem totally impractical and cost prohibitive. I also doubt they were ever used in combat or tournaments. Please correct me if you know I am wrong.
Then we come to helmets. They evolved over the ages, but the ones I found most amusing were the ones which were obviously custom made.
This one's profile reminds me a little of Jamie Farr from M*A*S*H.
Being reminiscent of an actor is one thing, but this helmet reminds me of Mr. Potato Head. I do not know why anyone would want to sport that particular look.
Beyond aesthetics, it does not appear that there is much ventilation provided in that helmet nor would you have much ability to see. I guess the purpose would be to stand there, look stupid, and take a beating while wearing an iron helmet. How wonderful.
There was one shield that I really liked, because it reminds me of Athena who placed the gorgon's severed head upon her shield.
Here's a close up on Medusa's face. Whether or not it would help defend yourself in battle, you will look good in the process.
The museum also had display cases filled with swords and knives. A weapon that gave me pause was one that I could imagine being carried by a clergyman whilst on a pilgrimage. If you look carefully you will notice that the top of the crucifix is actually a concealed dagger.
It is kind of like the old decorative hat pins which could serve for more than one purpose.
Then there was a small room dedicated to ancient weapons. Here are some old rusted Francisca axes that some historians credit as being the source of the name Franks and therefore France. They were lethal axes which were thrown in battle and almost impossible to defend against.
There was also an ancient bronze cuirass. It looks uncomfortable, but if it could protect chest cavities from being penetrated by a Francisca axe...any thoughts of personal comfort would become secondary.
Some of the larger weapons in the museum included canons. The one that impressed me the most was one that had the bizarre adornment of two pairs of lovers.
Here are two close ups of the lovers.
Love and war juxtaposed on a weapon. Amazing.
We also came across a case that included figurines depicting warriors through the ages. The attention to detail is wonderful. According to the description, these were made by Baron Fernand Vidal de Lery starting in 1888 and later ceded to Bernard Franck.
The first figure has the caption "Guerrier franc - Charlemagne 768"
The second is labeled as "Guerrier Carolingian 768."
They were definitely not mass produced toys such as ones made today by Playmobil.
After finishing with that museum, we visited Napoleon's tomb.
Here is the inside of the dome.
Here is his sarcophagus.
There are also incredibly large pillars of black marble encrusted with gold.
This ostentatious display of wealth was created after the French revolution. It was a bit too much for my liking.
After that, we found our way back to our hotel and rested before going out for dinner.
The events of that night will be the subject of another post as I think I have reached the maximum number of pictures for one Blogger post.
(edited on 3/20/13 to remove obsolete references and make this post a little more timeless)