Walking in the Footprints – Napoleon Part 2

Napoleon’s stories are present in nearly every corner of Europe, including the corners we walked before our visit to Waterloo.

The crowd which follows me with admiration, would run with the same eagerness were I marching to the Guillotine. – Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804, eschewing the pre-French Revolution coronation in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Reims for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. David was commissioned to paint the coronation and completed the now famous painting in 1808.  The painting is on display today at the Louvre in Paris.We visited the Paris Notre Dame Cathedral in 2002. We also visited the Reims cathedral in both 2002 and 2012.

Paris 2002 Notre DameNotre Dame Cathedral – Paris 2002
photoNotre Dame Cathedral – Reims 2012
photoThe famous smiling angel on the Reims Cathedral in 2012.
Reims Cathedral in 2002Reims Cathedral in 2002
The Smiling Angel in 2002

The Smiling Angel in 2002

The Treaty of Amiens of 1802 was signed in Amiens, France that forged a temporary peace between France, Great Britain, Spain, and the Batavian Republic, one of the precursors to modern-day Germany. Napoleon’s brother Jonathan Bonaparte signed the agreement for France, as Napoleon himself left Amiens to add the title of president of the newly acquired northern Italy. Amiens is home to one of the largest Cathedrals in the world and also the tomb of Jules Verne. We visited both in June 2012 on our tour of France.

photoNotre Dame Cathedral – Amiens 2012
The Grave of Jules Verne

During Napoleon’s reign of Spain, his plan was to have his brother Joseph develop a Champs Elysées-style boulevard in Madrid. Today the Plaza de Oriente remains as the primary remnant of that era. Napoleon’s plans to remake Madrid in Paris’s image did not come to fruition as his empire began to unravel.This square just east of the Plaza de Oriente, was also designed at the time of Joseph Bonaparte. I visited Madrid on business in 2008. Unlike his brother, Joseph Bonaparte was successful in getting to America and by this account lived a quiet life in suburban New Jersey prior to returning to France.

Telefonica Spain 068

Napoleon entered Russia with an army of 450,00. When we left in 1812, he exited with only 40,000. The decisive defeat lead to Napoleon’s first exile to Elba in 1814.The Anichkov Bridge in St. Petersburg, Russia by legend includes a back-handed monument to the defeat of Napoleon. The bridge includes four sculptures of horses being tamed. The pictured horse has a profile of a human face said to be Napoleon on it’s genitalia.

St Petersburg Bridge

Napoleon ordered the Arc De Triomphe to be built in 1806 to commemerate the 1805 victory by the French army at Austerlitz. Construction on the Arc was halted after Napoleon abdicated the throne, between 1814 and 1826. The Arc was completed in 1836, fifteen years after Napoleon’s death.

Paris 2002 Arc Triomph
Arc De Triomphe in 2002

Following his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon attempted to reach a America, but was intercepted and arrested by the British. Napoleon died in 1821 while in exile on the south Atlantic island of St. Helena. His body was returned to France in 1840 and was entombed in it’s current tomb in 1861 at Les Invalides in Paris. Napoleon’s son’s, Napoleon II, tomb was also moved to be on display in the great chamber when Hitler ruled France in 1940.

Napoleons Tomb - 2002

Napoleon’s Tomb Les Invalides 2002

napoleonII 2002Napoleon II’s Tomb Les Invalides 2002

Our earliest encounter with Napoleon’s footprints is in our home state of Minnesota. Minnesota was part of the Louisiana Territory. French influence is still evident today. The Minnesota state motto is the French phrase “L’Étoile du Nord,” meaning the Star of the North. The French Voyaguers traded furs across northwest territories over the 17th century. Napoleon had hoped to establish Haiti as the center of his new world empire, with Louisiana providing the natural resources. Napoleon’s needed to raise money to pay France’s war debts. Thomas Jefferson sent his emmissary to France in 1803 to hopefully purchase a portion of the Mississippi basin. When Napoleon offered to sell the entire territory for $15M, Jefferson immediately said yes without consulting congress. 

Napoleon’s legacy is complicated. The French still feel national pride in Napoleon’s legacy of conquest and his implementation of individual rights, the French Civil or Napoleonic code. The principal tenet of the Civil Code was that every French person was equal before the law.  To the rest of Europe, Napoleon’s legacy is one of the senseless bloodshed of millions and further complicated by the suppression of slaves in Haiti and ruthless police tactics and censorship to protect his regime.

One can only wonder if Napoleon had visited and explored the Louisiana territory how history may have changed. You can’t tell me that had Napoleon took Josephine on holiday to a lake in Minnesota and  watched the sun, that the Little Emperor may have viewed life a bit differently. 🙂


Chocolate, Waffles and Waterloo – Napoleon Part 1


So ended the 2014 World Cup run for the United States US Men’s Soccer team. The build up to the big game involved getting back in touch with our Belgian friends Olivia and Pascal. We exchanged a few friendly barbs in anticipation of the big game, as I wondered why Prince Harry was playing for Belgium and he shared a meme of Captain America being defeated by a Red Devil. (The Red Devils is the unofficial nick-name of the Belgian national team.) Besides chocolate, waffles and fries, Belgium is perhaps most famous for being the home of Waterloo. It was at Waterloo where even Tim Howard couldn’t save “The Little Emperor” Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in 1815. We were fortunate to visit the Waterloo battlefield site with Olivia in 2012.

Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily. – Napoleon Bonaporte

Modern day Waterloo is a suburb of Brussels with a population of just under 30,000. The Waterloo battlefield and working farms on the edge of the city offered a nice change of pace in comparison to the hustle and bustle of Brussels.  The Waterloo Battlefield site is a tourist destination, offering tours of the battlefield, an interpretive center, wax museum, and views from the top of the Lion’s mound.

The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies. – Napoleon

226 steps lead to the top of Butte du Lion or the Lion’s Mound. The monument was ordered to be built by the King of the Netherlands at what was thought to be the exact spot where his son, the Prince of Orange, was wounded. The mound was constructed from the dirt where the actual battle took place.  The view from on high offered an awesome perspective of where the sides approached one another.


photo Clare & Olivia at the top of the Lion’s Mound

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Tourists packed into the rear of this modified truck to take in a guided tour experience. Pre-recorded audio in French, and sometimes English, attempted to provide a retelling of how Napoleon was out-manned and out-maneuvered by the 7th Coalition.Today the battlefield remains as working farm fields, as it was in 1815. As the tour progress, it was apparent crossing the field roads that the vehicle had little suspension, giving the passengers an unexpected roller coaster ride for their money.

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At the top of Lion’s Mound and elsewhere on the grounds battlefield maps assist visitors envision how the lines advanced on that fateful day.

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A Statue of Napoleon and a monument to the men who died at the Battlefield Site.

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The upper level of the interpretive center was a 360-degree panorama of a painting similar to French painter’s Clément-Auguste Andrieux’s Battle of Waterloo. Simulated audio, complete with bugles, gunfire, explosions, and the pounding of horse hoofs surrounded the room for effect.

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The battlefield site also houses a wax museum, showcasing the military attire of the day and also a death mask taken of Napoleon after his death in exile at St. Helena.

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The Waterloo Battlefield only tells the story of Napoleon’s final military defeat. Napoleon’s stories are present in nearly every corner of Europe, including the corners we walked before our visit to Waterloo.