, as in Napoleon's Waterloo
, i.e., Napoleon's ultimate defeat, is only about 8 miles SSE of Brussels. We decided to visit
this historic place in the expectation that we would learn about how this historic defeat occurred. The battle that took place there
between the French forces under Napolean and the Anglo-allied forces under the British Duke of Wellington was one of the most important
battles ever fought. The domination of all of Europe was at stake. After a previous defeat at Leipzig in 1813 and subsequent exile
to Elbe, Napoleon returned to France and began a new military campaign in 1814 aimed at renewing and extending a French empire. For
the first hundred days he was successful. The battle of Waterloo ended that campaign forever, and Napoleon was exiled once again,
this time to the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.
From the bare facts, Napoleon should have won. He had more
troops than the combined allied forces. They were under his unified command, well trained, equipped, and battle hardened. The
allied troops under Wellington were composed of groups of troops under command from several states--Prussia, Hanover, Netherlands,
Belgium, Nassau and Brunswick (the latter two were both Duchies in what is now Germany). Although all were under Wellington's
command, they also were under their own state's command and were not uniformly trained, or equipped. Just two days before the
battle of Waterloo on June 18th, Napoleon had defeated the Prussian forces nearby. Napoleon took the initiative in the battle,
being the first to attack Wellington's positions. Nevertheless, he was defeated. So what we wanted to know was "How come?"
In our judgement you do not come away from the experience with satisfactory answers to this question.
There is a visitors center
on the edge of the battlefield where tickets are sold to enter. Just behind is the Lion's Mount, a memorial to Napoleon.
The huge mound was constructed by digging earth from the battlefield itself, thus obliterating much of the original landscape.
There were different admission fees for different offerings at the site and we never became clear about what was included under the
different fees. There were three features: the mount, a movie, and a museum. The highest fee includes admission
to all three. Entrance to the mount only does not include the movie. In addition you could purchase a battlefield tour.
the 120 foot high mount is not an easy task--there are 225 steps to the top. There is a hand rail, and you can stop to rest as you
go. Once at the top you are treated to an extensive and very nice view of the surrounding countryside, which appears to be mostly
fields dotted with only a few landmarks. There is a sign map on which positions of the various concentrations of troops are
denoted, but nothing that relates the sign to the landscape that you see. As a result, what you get is only a very nice view,
but no insight into what happened there. It is not clear that seeing the movie helps makes more sense out of the view from the
top of the mount.
You do not learn much from the museum either. It consists primarily of a series of tableaux behind glass
with wax figures representing the major figures--Wellington, Napoleon, The French Marshal Ney, the Prussian General Blucher and others,
dressed in period uniforms.
In short, if you go and want to learn a great deal about the battle, buy the whole package and/or the battlefield tour. It won't be
much of a loss if you skip the museum if you are tired. There is also a round building, which appeared to be under construction, inside
of which is a panoramic painting of the battlefield.