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In the footsteps of Napoleon

Born on an island – Corsica, in 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte died on another island – Sainte-Hélène, in 1821. A third “island” – Ile-de-France, that is to say Paris and its region – was the scene of some of the most famous episodes of its existence. We invite you to follow in the footsteps of this heir of the French Revolution, who experienced a meteoric rise, then his fall.


Let's start at the end: imprisoned by his enemies – the British – on the island of Sainte-Hélène, Napoleon Bonaparte died on May 5, 1821 in circumstances which still remain controversial today. Illness or poisoning? Nobody knows. Still, he was buried on this little piece of land lost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean... until Louis-Philippe requested the return of his ashes. These were transferred to the Invalides, in Paris, on December 15, 1840. Napoleon's wish to rest "on the banks of the Seine, in the middle of this French people that I loved so much", was thus respected. Several years of work were necessary for the construction, under the golden dome, of a porphyry sarcophagus placed in an impressive cavity. You can visit this grave at the Army Museum .

Riddle: what route did the funeral float take as it entered Paris? Answer: before going down the Champs-Élysées, he passed, accompanied by a respectful crowd, under the Arc de Triomphe , a Napoleonic monument par excellence. Although completed after the death of the Emperor, the arch was in fact built at his request to bring glory to the Great Army. Most of the sculptures that adorn it make references to Napoleonic battles.


A look back at his young years: General Bonaparte was 30 years old when, through the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799), he achieved the status of First Consul. At this period, his “campaign” – in other words his pleasure home – was located in Malmaison, west of Paris. The premises had a political function – Councils of Ministers were held there – but it was above all a private residence, which retains the feminine imprint of Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814). Napoleon's first wife is in fact at the origin of the simple decor, inspired by Antiquity, of the apartments. Today a museum, the Château de Malmaison presents, among other things, a remarkable portrait of Napoleon: The First Consul Crossing the Alps at the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard , by Jacques Louis David; There are copies of this painting of Bonaparte controlling a rearing horse, but this one is indeed the original version. You can also visit the neighboring Château de Bois Préau , which Joséphine acquired after their divorce in 1809.


But Napoleon did not remain Consul for long: on December 2, 1804, he crowned himself Emperor, in the presence of the Pope, in Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris ; then, during the same ceremony, he crowned Josephine. You can admire this scene at the Louvre Museum : The Rite of Napoleon , again produced by Jacques Louis David, is a masterpiece of political painting.


Ten years later, in 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte, pressed by the Prussian and Russian armies, abdicated at Fontainebleau . In this castle, where many French sovereigns succeeded one another, you will find a Napoleon I museum which exhibits historical souvenirs.


For a complete "pilgrimage", don't forget to go to the Château de Compiègne , where, in 1810, Napoleon effusively welcomed the one who would become his second wife and give him an heir: Marie-Louise of Austria, the little -niece of Marie-Antoinette. We visit sumptuous Empire style apartments. And if you go to the Palace of Versailles , know that it houses the French History Museum, many of whose works relate to Napoleon Bonaparte. This is the case with Antoine-Jean Gros's painting, Bonaparte at the Pont d'Arcole , one of the most famous productions of the Napoleonic epic.




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