Memorial Tourism Waterloo
Ninety nine years before the Kaiser’s troops marched into Wallonia, the region had staged another landmark event in European history, when Napoleon finally met his Waterloo in June 1815. Spectacular bicentennial events are being planned for the bicentenary in 2015. New venues are opening; existing ones will be remodelled or demolished. The overall effect will be a vast improvement of tourist sites and facilities in the battlefield area, about half an hour’s drive from Brussels.
However many times you visit Waterloo, there’s something about the place that stops you in your tracks. Apart from the Allied Ridge (where the Visitor Centre, the Lion Mound, Panorama and Waxworks are situated) the gently undulating topography has hardly changed in 200 years. It’s criss-crossed with footpaths, farm tracks and cobbled lanes, which lend themselves to rewarding and revealing walks. While the focal point for most visitors is the clutch of museums, shops and restaurants around the Lion Mound, the real atmosphere is to be felt out in the battlefield itself, and in the surrounding villages of Papelotte, La Haye and Plancenoit.
Exploring these places, ideally with an expert guide, you can appreciate how uncertain the outcome of the battle was. The Allied armies of Great Britain and Prussia were separated by an early French assault, and for some time the French had the upper hand. The fighting raged for nine hours, and claimed the lives of 40,000 men. In a private letter after the event, Wellington wrote: “It was the most desperate business I ever was in; I never took so much trouble about any battle; & never was so nearly beat.” His modesty overlooks the fact that visionary planning, new technology including rockets and shrapnel shells, and exceptional bravery by the British cavalry in particular, signaled the end of the Napoleonic era and the beginning of the British Empire.
On a later occasion Wellington was somewhat less modest about his achievement: “By God! I don’t think it would have been done if I had not been there.”
New in 2015
The spectacular Waterloo Panorama near the Lion Mound will feature a new show, opening in March 2015, explaining the context of the battle and how it shaped Europe by ensuring peace on the continent for more than 50 years.
Around the battlefield itself, most of the bicentennial activities will take place between Thursday 18th and Sunday 21st June. There’ll be a light ans sound show aorund the Lion Mound, standing proudly near the centre of the Allied line, and the newly restored Hougoumont Farm buildings will be inaugurated, with performances by military bands from the various nations who took part in the battle. Hougoumont – the most evocative part of the battlefield - is where the Allies placed their right flank and had their first contact with the French. The resulting carnage shocked even battle-hardened Napoleonic veterans.
At Plancenoit, where the advancing Prussians encountered the French right flank, up to 6,000 uniformed infantry, cavalry and artillery will stage a spectacular re-enactment of key phases of the battle on Friday evening and Sunday morning, and a son et lumière show is planned for Saturday evening. The uniforms and weapons of the participants are accurate copies of those worn and used by the soldiers on the day.
It’s astonishing to consider that less than a century later, the British and Prussians/Germans had turned from allies to bitter enemies. Their respective regiments, with the same battle honours on their flags, would fight each other to the death - almost on the same fields.
For more information about Waterloo 2015, click here