Chocolate, Waffles and Waterloo – Napoleon Part 1

BELGIUM 2, UNITED STATES 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.

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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.

Grave Encounters

Americans are fascinated by how steeped in history European countries are in comparison to the United States. The buildings are not decades, but hundreds of years old. The signature design of most cities includes a medieval old city at the center. The city grew around its medieval center, keeping the rich history and remembrance of the past. The old buildings are kept intact no matter how dark and dank the building may be, as it is part of the history and part of the present all at once. Intertwined with the rich attachment to the past is the presence of the dearly departed. Cemeteries, pantheons, sarcophagus’s, and tombs are everywhere. In historic buildings, in churches, in neighborhood cemeteries, the departed are never far away, part of the past and present all at once. In our travels, we sought out the final resting places of a few of history’s notable people, but also came across others by surprise!

The Lizard King

The grave of Jim Morrison’s is perhaps the most famous grave site of an American found outside the United States. We visited the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris in 2002 and sought out the grave of the legendary front man for the classic rock group The Doors. In the grand scheme of history and culture, fellow luminaries interred at Père Lachaise Oscar Wilde and Frederic Chopin offered more cultural significance, but for some reason Jim Morrison’s grave is the magnet that draws in people from all walks of life. It is the only grave in with Père Lachaise constant security and visitors pay their respects with flowers, cigarettes, pieces of clothing and in other non-traditional ways.

There was an undeniable vibe around the grave site. While we visited, there were ten to 20 people gathered around, all of us under watchful eye of a nearby security guard. I wasn’t sure how long one should pay homage to the Lizard King, but after snapping a few shots and taking in the scene, it was time to move on. Père Lachaise was a bit too confusing for us to find the graves of Chopin or Oscar Wilde, but I could cross visiting Jim Morrison’s grave off my bucket list.

Jim Morrison’s Grave – 2002
Père Lachaise – 2002
Père Lachaise – 2002

The Emperor 

The Invalides of Paris today serves as the French military museum. It houses monuments and museums, but is renown for being the final resting place for Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon is entombed in a red quartzite sarcophagus in a primary atrium. The enomority of Napoleon’s legacy was on full display as it was a shoulder to shoulder, capacity crowd in the atrium on our visit in 2002. Several of Napoleon’s family who commanded under him are also entombed in the Invalides, including his son, Napoleon II.

Napoleon is one of the icons of world history. On the International stage, his legacy is mixed. Napoleon is credited for breaking the back of the Roman Empire, breaking the cycle of feudalism in Europe and to Americans he sold us Louisiana! He also rejected democracy in France by establishing himself as Emperor, quelled a slave rebellion in Haiti, led France into costly wars, and finally left his country bankrupt and barren of her colonies.

With his defeat in Belgium at Waterloo, Napoleon was deposed for the last time until his death in 1821. The Waterloo monument wax museum displays a wax mold taken of Napoleon following his death.

(Fore shadow for future post. 🙂 )

Napoleons Tomb - 2002

Napoleons Tomb – 2002

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Waterloo – 2012

Napoleon II Tomb – 2002

Jules Verne

In 2012 as we mapped out our journey from Normany to Champagne in France, my wife suggested we take the route through the city of Amiens to see the renown Cathedral, but to also find the grave of the famous science fiction writer Jules Verne. The guidebooks listed the remarkable stonework and design of the tomb as the second highlight of Ameins. I was game for the adventure as Verne’s 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of my favorite classic novels.

As I’ve chronicled in past posts, our ability to get from point a to point b is largely limited to our GPS and the information we feed into it. The guidebook listed the incorrect address for the cemetery, but somehow, someway we found the cemetery. The cemetery was located on the fringes between a residential area and the business part of the city, much like one would be located in the United States. We did not see a legend or map of the cemetery available, so we just started walking, and walking, and walking.

There was no sign of Jules Verne’s grave anywhere. Then as we took a turn to make our way out of the cemetery, there it was. This most unique tomb, fit for the godfather of science fiction. The sculpture adorning his tomb illustrates an image of Verne himself pushing aside the slab to emerge from the grave!

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Jules Verne’s Grave – Amiens, France – 2012

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Jules Verne’s Grave – Amiens, France – 2012

Normandy Cemetery

Visiting the American Cemetery in Normandy is a moving experience. I considered it my patriotic duty to visit the cemetery and found myself on a whole other journey following the discovery of a grave marker for Albin B Hagen.

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American Cemetery – Normandy, France – 2012

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Grave of Unknown Soldier – Normandy, France – 2012

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Grave of Pvt. Albin B. Hagen, Normandy, France – 2012

Christopher Columbus

The massive cathedrals of Europe are often the final resting place for esteemed clergy, bishops, cardinals and even saints. It was in the cathedral in Seville, Spain where we stumbled across the tomb of another historic icon. Seville’s cathedral is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral and the third largest in the world! (Just what is the difference between a Gothic cathedral and any other cathedral, we’ll get to that in a later post.)

As we made our way through the cathedral, there was an usually large crowd gathered around a very impressive monument. I listened in to an English speaking tour guide speaking to a crowd of American students to see what was going on. I have to admit I had not done any homework on the Cathedral and what were going to see. I was amazed as I overheard the guide’s description that this monument was actually the tomb of Christopher Columbus!

Well, at least the tomb contains part of Christopher Columbus. Many claim that Columbus is buried in the Dominican Republic. However, the curators of the Cathedral point to Columbus’s remains being moved from Santo Domingo in 1795 to Havana when the Spanish lost control of the Dominican Republic, with the remains coming back to Spain in 1895. The tomb may only contain part of Christopher Columbus, but I am still amazed.

The Cathedral in Sevilla

Tomb of Christopher Columbus, Seville, Spain – 2013

The Cathedral in Sevilla

Tomb of Christopher Columbus, Seville, Spain – 2013

Tomb of Cardinal Juan de Cervantes, Seville Cathedral – 2013