The Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte stands in front of the Hotel des Invalides. GETTY IMAGES

Many countries build temporary pavilions during the Olympic Games. These are used for national promotion as well as providing space for fans and official events. Saudi Arabia is negotiating to build a national pavilion during the Paris Olympics. It will be built in the Invalides complex, where Napoleon's tomb is located.

The possible installation of a Saudi Olympic village for four months on a site symbolic of the French armies has sparked controversy and opposition from right-wing MPs. "Discussions are underway at the request of the Saudis," said the French Defence Ministry, which owns the building and its grounds, amid criticism from some lawmakers.

"There are very strict conditions which the Saudis have not yet accepted," a ministry statement said, aimed at "guaranteeing the security of the site, the solemnity of the place and the tranquillity of the inhabitants of the National Square".

Saudi Arabia's quest for a prominent role at the Paris Olympics is in line with its wider campaign to position itself as a key player on the global stage. Saudi Arabia's move is part of a wider effort to improve its international image through sports such as golf, Formula 1, football, tennis and various other competitions. 

"Saudi Arabia is committed to respecting the security and financial measures of the Invalides, the military museum," said French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu. Claiming that Riyadh is an "important defence partner", the minister called for a "sympathetic view of the Saudi request, which could lead to sponsorship".

A right-wing MP raised the issue in parliament on Wednesday, describing the Invalides as "an architectural treasure, full of symbolism and our country's history" and reminding MPs that the building also housed a military hospital.

"Saudi Arabia poses a specific problem because of its human rights record, but even if it were a Danish or Canadian village, it would be the same issue," she told AFP on Thursday. 

The monument is already used as a backdrop for fashion shows, but Serre said it is different to rent it out to a foreign state. "When you have a Chanel fashion show, it's still private, but it doesn't last four months and we're not appropriating anything other than the beauty of the place. We are talking about the values of the Republic".

Napoleon's remains were buried there in 1861, forty years after his death on the remote island of Saint Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic. The Hôtel des Invalides houses the Army Museum, Napoleon's tomb and the Museum of the Légion d'Honneur. "There are some things that are not for sale or to make money, and the Invalides is, in my opinion, one of them." 

The defence ministry said that any money raised from the project would go towards the army museum and hospital inside the Invalides, whose golden dome is one of the boldest features of the Paris skyline. When questioned in parliament, the minister for veterans, Patricia Miralles, insisted that "nothing has been confirmed, nothing has been done".