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Belgium > Waterloo 2015: reenactment, museums and monuments of the battle

Waterloo 2015: reenactment, museums and monuments of the battle of June 18, 1815.

Waterloo is one of the most common city names in the world. In Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Sierra Leone, and in the United Kingdom, cities are named Waterloo. In the United States, with a town called Waterloo in almost one State out of two, there are more Waterloo cities than London or Liverpool for example. In addition, there are countless metro or railway stations or squares named Waterloo throughout the world, including, among others, in Hong Kong, Hanover, Amsterdam, and of course in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Obviously, those places chose that name in order to commemorate the famous battle which took place in Waterloo (Belgium) on 18 June 1815. The battle was the turning point of the so-called Hundred Days campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte.

On 26 February 1815, Napoleon escaped from 
Elba Island where he settled after his abdication in 1814. He quickly resumed the military and politic control of France.

Napoleon planned to face the coalition made up mainly of Britain, Prussia, the Netherlands, Russia and Austria. He hoped to defeat separately the Allied troops stationed in Belgium. Belgium, that was annexed to France from 1795 to 1814, was occupied in 1815 by the allies. The British army had established his headquarters in Brussels and the Prussian army in Namur.

The confrontations took place first at Ligny, Quatre-Bras, Wavre, then finally on 18 June 1815 near Waterloo. The battle of Waterloo was the final defeat of Napoleon. It ended 23 years of wars between France and the other European leading countries. It deeply marked the destiny of Europe.

The celebrations of the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815.

The bicentenary of this historic battle will be celebrated in the United Kingdom by several special exhibitions in various museums and in Windsor Castle. In particular, the Eagle of the French 105th regiment that was ripped off by the Scots Greys and will be exhibited successively in museums of Edinburgh and Liverpool.

It should be noted that two eagles were abducted from the French troops during the battle: one belonging to the 105th regiment was ripped off by Royal Dragons under Captain Clark while the second, that of the 45th regiment, was abducted by the Scots Greys, specifically Sergeant Charles Ewart. Both eagles were brought to London 200 years ago in triumph. The first is usually kept at the National Army Museum in London, the second at Edinburgh Castle. All French regiments have an eagle at the top of their flagpole.

In London, the British Museum will bring together three long panoramas, made within days of the battle, as well as a series of works by French and British artists glorifying or vilifying Napoleon.

In Belgium, Waterloo will celebrate with pomp the bicentenary of the battle from 18 to June 21. Waterloo is located 15 km south of Brussels, the capital of the country. For this purpose, a new Memorial with a new scenography of the battle was built and the famous farmhouse of Hougoumont was restored. An inaugural show, called "Inferno" and designed by Luc Petit, will be produced in the night of June 18, 2015. It is inspired by the poem "L'expiation" by Victor Hugo.

The festivities include the reenactment of two crucial phases of the battle: the attack of the French army, including the elite Imperial Guard, and then the heroic response of the allies under the Duke of Wellington, including at the Hougoumont farmhouse.

More than 5000 participants of various nationalities, over 300 horses and a hundred guns will take part in the reenactments. Among the many candidates, Frank Samson, a French lawyer, was chosen to play Napoleon. Aged 47, he is native of Orléans. He has already played the role in other reenactments. He especially strives to reproduce the behavior of the Emperor in great detail and his character traits.

On the side of the British, the prestigious Scots Greys will participate for the first time in a reenactment of the battle of Waterloo. They will be represented by the Greys & Glory, a Scottish cavalry regiment, who will reinterpret the heroic exploits of their illustrious predecessors. Like in 1815, they will ride beautiful grey horses.

See here how the battle of Waterloo took place on June 18, 1815.

Waterloo 2015: Battle of Waterloo reenactment
Waterloo 2015: Battle of Waterloo reenactment.                                                                    © Waterloo 2015 / Chantal Crèvecoeur

In Wavre, the commemoration of the battle will take place on 4 and 5 July 2015. 600 participants and about 20 riders will take part in the reenactment of the battle of Wavre.

Some people may also want to follow the Route Napoléon in Wallonia, the itinerary French troops took from Beaumont to Waterloo in the hope of defeating successively the Prussians and the British. This 94 km long route has indeed kept various traces of the passage of the French army and the confrontations in which they were first successful.

The monuments in honor of the battle of Waterloo.

The battlefield of waterloo has been protected by law. It kept many remains and monuments of the famous battle.

-- The most famous of them is certainly the Lion's Mound: it was built in 1826 - 11 years after the battle - at the request of the King of the Netherlands, Guillaume I, at the place where his son, the future King Guillaume II, had been injured during the battle. The mound is a conical artificial hill with a diameter of 169 meters and a height of 41 meters. A huge lion in bronze of 28 tons stand on a stone pedestal at the top of the hill. Its right front paw is upon a sphere, signifying global victory.

The lion was cast in Cockerill factories in Liège and, contrary to legend, it was not made directly from the melting of the cannons that the French abandoned at Waterloo. See herebeautiful pictures the mound and the bronze lion.

The top of the Hill offers visitors splendid panoramic views over the battlefield. You may climb the mound by a staircase of 226 steps built in the second half of the 19th century. Commonly known as the "Lion of Waterloo", the butte is actually located on the territory of the neighboring commune of Braine-l'Alleud.

The Duke of Wellington would have regretted that land used for the erection of the mound has been collected from the battlefield so that some disparities that had their importance during the hostilities have disappeared.

Near the mound, in a new underground Memorial, the battle of Waterloo, its context and its consequences on the future of Europe are presented with a new scenography including an audiovisual show in 4D. Then, visitors go to the current "Panorama" building which hosts a huge (110 m in circumference and 12 m in height) fresco with sound, representing an onslaught of French cavalry led by Marshal Ney. From there, visitors have access to the Lion's Mound.

This tourist area is known as the Lion's Hamlet. An entrance fee is levied. The new memorial will be inaugurated a few days before the bicentennial.

-- The Museum of Wellington at Waterloo. The coaching inn where the Duke of Wellington had established his headquarters on the eve of the battle was converted into a museum. It is located Chaussée de Bruxelles, 147, in the present-day center of Waterloo in the front of the Church. The exhibitions of the Museum are dedicated to Wellington and the armies of the nations that took part in the combat, including an impressive collection of rare weapons.

From March 21 to July 31, 2015, the Wellington Museum will celebrate the bicentenary of the battle by an exceptional exhibition, "Shared Destinies: Wellington and Napoleon", which puts in parallel the life (youth, family and social life, the political role, and more) of the two protagonists. For this purpose, the Museum has received various items belonging to different museums around the world. These loans include the frock coat and plumed hat of the Duke of Wellington.

Arthur Wellesley, born in Dublin Ireland in 1769, is a hero,  famous for his military victories in India and particularly in the Napoleonic wars. He was created Duke of Wellington after Napoleon's first abdication. After his victory at Waterloo, he entered politics in the ranks of the Tories. He was Prime Minister from 1928 to 1930 and acting in 1934. He retired from political life in 1846. It died in 1852. He is buried in the St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

-- The castle-farmhouse of Hougoumont, known by the fierce resistance to the French, has been restored on the occasion of the bicentenary of the battle. Like the Lion's Mound, this emblematic place of the battle is located on the territory of the commune of Braine-l'Alleud, within two kilometers of the Lion's Mound.Before the outbreak of the battle, the Duke of Wellington had taken control of the Hougoumont castle-farmhouse and two other farms, where the French could dangerously threaten the allied troops.

Throughout the hostilities, the nearby woods and gardens of the Hougoumont castle were occupied and lost repeatedly by the French. But the buildings were never conquered by the French. At best, some of them could break one of two large doors and started to enter the estate. However, they were slaughtered and this attack failed just all the others, what prompted the Duke of Wellington to say "The success of the battle turned upon the closing of the gates at Hougoumont".

At the end of the battle, the castle was completely devastated and partially burned. Its successive owners preserved what was left. A part of the estate (the "House of the gardener") was rebuilt and remained an active farm. But lately, the buildings were highly degraded and have been redeemed by the Walloon authorities in view of a restoration which is financed by the Walloon region, the United Kingdom and private donations. A monument to the memory of the British soldiers is to be erected in addition to the current monument to the French.

The inauguration of the restored farmhouse will be held on June 17, 2015. During the festivities of the bicentenire, a shuttle will allow visitors to move easily between the Lion's mound and the Hougoumont farmhouse.

-- The "Ferme du caillou" in Genappe. The former headquarters of Napoleon was converted in 1951 into a small Napoleon Museum, the only one existing in Belgium. An ossuary containing bones found in the field was built in 1912 in the garden of the Museum, where you find also a statue of Napoleon. The Museum is located on the Chaussée de Bruxelles, 66, about 4 km south of the Lion's Mound or 9 km away from the Wellington Museum in Waterloo center. 

Waterloo 2015: Bicentenary of the Battle
Waterloo 2015: reenactment of the battle at the Bicentenary.                                                    © Waterloo 2015/ J-François Schmitz


Countless memorials have been built on the battlefield. Many of them were erected in honor of nations who participated in the confrontations or valiant warriors whose families wanted to perpetuate remembrance.

In Braine-l'Alleud, only 500 m away from the Lion's Mound, a monument to the memory of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Gordon, the aide of the Duke of Wellington, was built in 1817 by his family. In front of it, on the other side of the road, in Plancenoit, the Hanoverian Monument was erected in 1818 by the Hanoverian in honor of 42 of their officers who died defending the Haie Sainte farmhouse, in front of which the monument is located.

The Prussian Monument, erected in 1818 in Plancenoit commemorates the decisive action of the troops of Marshal Blücher at Waterloo.

Also in Plancenoit, 1.5 km away from the Lion's Mound, the monument of the "Aigle blessé" (wounded eagle) is the first memorial erected on the site of the battlefield in honor of the French soldiers. It was inaugurated much later (in 1904) in the presence of a many people in a context of French-Belgian friendship.

Two monuments honor the memory of the Belgians who died during hostilities, one located in Genappe for Belgians died in the battle of Quatre-Bras on 16 June 1815, the other in Waterloo 500 m away from the Lion's Mound (near the monument of the Hanoverians) for those who died in the battle of June 18 on both sides.

The Column Victor Hugo, which stands at Plancenoit almost in front of the Aigle blessé monument, commemorates that the French writer stay in 1860 in Waterloo. The construction of the Column started in 1912 and ended in 1956. During that stay, Victor Hugo ended writing the novel Les Misérables. His famous poem to "Waterloo, Morne plaine" had been written in 1852, so well before the author visited the battlefield.

The monument built in 1990 in Genappe in honor of the Cavalry of the Netherlands is probably the most recent monument added to the protected site.

Practical information

Find here useful information to visit the battlefield as well as some additional photos. 

See also: Pictures of the Waterloo Memorial and the Lion's Mound.
                Pictures from monuments  of the Battle of Waterloo.
                Pictures from historic farmhouses of Waterloo.
                Pictures from the Hougoumont farmhouse.

See also

Belgium > Battle of Waterloo
Belgium > Bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo

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The battle of Waterloo has deeply marked the destiny of Europe. On the field of the battle, three museums and many monuments keep the memory of this mythical event which is celebrated every year by the reconstruction of the battle.