Reliving Waterloo's bloody past

History revisited:
Last Updated 09 October 2010, 12:47 IST

Climbing up those 226 steep steps is indeed a task. But once you are there on top, the cool September wind makes it enchanting. And as you keep watching the lush green lawns and fields that stretch acres, you almost forget this placid locale was once a fearsome battlefield. Yes, I am at the historic place of Waterloo where one of the bloodiest wars in world history was fought. You may have often come across the phrase, ‘.....he met his waterloo’; this is where it originated from (the phrase signifies meeting with a devastating and utter defeat).

This is where the French hero Napoleon Bonaparte ‘met his Waterloo’ in 1815 as
he was defeated by allied forces led by Wellington, marking the end of his military dominion. The battlefield of Waterloo is today one of the greatest historical and
cultural sites in Europe and among the best preserved.

Waterloo (30 km from Brussels, capital of Belgium), with a population of about 30,000, has done its best to preserve history. An 11 Euro ticket will take you an auditorium for two 20-minute films, which virtually take you to the battlefield; a circular-shaped building called Panorama which has paintings of the battlefield created by best-known painters around 1910; to the wax museum; and to the Lion Mound,  which is a memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives.

Panorama houses a painted canvas that is said to be the third largest in Europe and can be considered a masterpiece of military pictorial art. This place also reconstructed a battlefield with sound effects as great moments of the battle.

Of the two films, the first one captures what life as a soldier was like and shows the movements of troops, thanks to 3D maps and scenes shot during re-enactment of war in 2009. The second film helps you relive the historic moment through a selection of clips from the film Waterloo made by Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk in 1970. The wax museum, housed in what was once a hotel, depicts Napoleon and his generals on the eve of the battle, Wellington and others. The wax figures were sculpted by artists of the Musee Grevin, the famous wax museum of Paris.

You can also take a tour of the battlefield in an open bus. This tour enables the visitor to learn about the decisive moments of the battle, the tactics adopted by military leaders and the reasons why Napoleon was defeated.

This innovative 40-minute tour has a commentary in three languages including English,  bringing the battle thrillingly to life. On June 18 every year, the location becomes a virtual battlefield as military events are held in period costumes and the historical battle is reconstructed on a grand scale.

The Lion Mound (41 mt-high), erected in 1826, can be seen from a far distance. It is so named because atop the mound stands an enormous cast-iron lion weighing 28 tonnes. Symbolising peace, the lion, with its face towards France, is supposed to protect the globe.

Waterloo, which means wet forest, thanks to its proximity to Brussels, is now a transformed urban centre which houses European headquarters of MasterCard International, two Carrefour hypermarkets, a Delhaize store, an Ibis Hotel, several BNP Paribas Fortis branches, numerous office parks and international schools.

A multicultural town with its residents from all parts of the world, Waterloo plays an important economic, tourist and cultural role for Belgium. If you are anywhere close to Brussels and interested in history, Waterloo is a must-visit.

(Published 09 October 2010, 12:47 IST)

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