Musée des Plans-Reliefs

 The Hotel des Invalides in the 7th Arrondissement of Paris, France houses a museum dedicated to detailed military models of important cities and fortified towns throughout Europe. These models were created over the course of a hundred years during the 17th and 18th centuries so that French monarchs could make strategic decisions about how to proceed with an attack on foreign lands, or how to defend their cities against foreign attack. These scale models are known as plan-reliefs and they were an important tool for Renaissance era military strategists, especially in France and Italy. Today, they stand as irreplaceable documents of the sites presented and serve as valuable educational tools.

The collection in the Musée des Planes-Reliefs was begun in 1668 by Louis XIV at the suggestion of his minister of war, the Marquis de Louvois. Some of the earlier models were produced during the construction or reconstruction of the fortifications they represent, serving as both working models and drawings. Others were created after the works were completed, presumably for convenient analysis and instruction. The king developed a strong enthusiasm for these models, resulting in fifty being built during his reign. Thirty-seven of these survive, including the model of Ath, which dates from 1668 and was the first completed. Louis XIV locked the models in the Great Gallery of the Louvre, and few visitors were allowed to see them because the fortifications were state secrets and the king could not allow inspection by a potential enemy.

King Louis XV continued what he had started and many new models were added during his reign. In 1774, this collection was almost destroyed when the royal architects confiscated the great gallery of the Louvre for the exhibition of paintings, and threw the plans-reliefs on the nearest rubbish heap. But the King intervened and moved the models to the Hotel des Invalides where it remains today. However, during transfer, many models were damaged.

The military focus of the Revolutionary years led to a renewed appreciation of the value of plan-reliefs and even Napoleon displayed enthusiasm for the collection, contributing additional models. After France's defeat in the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, about 17 models, mainly depicting German cities, were taken to Berlin as spoils of war. Sadly, only two of them survive, as most were destroyed during the bombings of 1944–45.

As the 19th century dawned and the nature of warfare changed, relief schemes gradually lost their contemporary military significance. And although much was destroyed during the tumultuous period of World War II, what remains has great historical significance.

All models from the earliest models onwards, with only a few exceptions, were built at a scale of 1:600. In addition to the actual fortified area, the surrounding area was also included to a large extent. As a result, many of these models were huge. For example, Grenoble's model is approximately 23 by 27 feet, Strasbourg's is approximately 21 by 36 feet, and Metz's is approximately 24 by 30 feet.

The base of the models was made of wood, and the houses and buildings were also made of wood. The trees were made from iron wire and silk, and cardboard and sand were used to create natural features.

In total, about 260 plans-reliefs were created between 1668 and 1870, representing about 150 fortified sites. Just over a hundred survive, of which only 28 plan-reliefs are on display in the Musée des Plans-Reliefs.

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