While most visitors to Paris head to the Hotel des Invalides to see Napoleon’s final resting place, the Musee des Plans-Reliefs is a hidden gem in the same building that shouldn’t be missed. The museum is home to a collection of military models, some of which date to the mid-17th century when Louis XIV’s minister of war began collecting three-dimensional models of fortified cities to use for military planning. Known as plans-relief, the collection was previously at the Louvre and moved to the Hotel des Invalides in 1777. The earliest model was built in 1668 and continued for two centuries, with 260 models constructed over the years, including those of Luxembourg, La Spezia, Brest and Cherbourg.
The museum was established in 1943 and today displays about 100 models, including 28 plans-relief of fortifications along the English Channel, the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and the Pyrenees Mountains. Built at a 1:600 scale, the models all use the same technique, which is explained in an accompanying exhibit. Watercolor paintings are used to show the color of the buildings and surrounding scenery at the time of construction.
To reach the Hotel des Invalides and the Musee des Plans-Reliefs, take the Metro to La Tour-Maubourg, Varenne, Invalides or St-Francois-Xavier or take the RER train to Invalides. A number of bus lines also stop nearby. Guided tours are available by advance reservation.