Several days from now, I fell across a letter from Edward Stanley to his wife relating his visit to Waterloo Battlefield in 1816°, just one year after the famous battle took place. This letter was so moving and so well written that it made me want to visit the site once again. I visited often in my childhood and my love for history even made me celebrate one of my teenage birthday parties there. With the good weather that we had last Thursday and a meeting cancelled, I told myself that it was a good time to go back the Waterloo battlefield.
The visitors center (and shop) is brand new, staff is young and nice and a ticket is issued which gives you access to two short-movies on the battle, the opening of the gate to the Lion
(I used to rush up there when I was a kid, now just seeing the 226 steps makes me feel tired and I must admit, I skipped the sacro-saint trek to the top ,leaving that to the day when I’ll come back with my young ones 😉 ) , wax museum and panorama.
Talking of wax museum and “panorama”, there are still there: used wax statues of Napoleon and his aides, The Prince of Orange, The Duke of Wellington and Blutcher and in that same museum you can find several items that were collected after the battle but not much. The building could do with a bit of fresh paint and new furniture but the good old “Waterloo spirit” from school days hasn’t gone off even if I can understand that the 21st century visitor could be disappointed.
I don’t know if I’m going to be clear but the point is that with a battlefield there aren’t really things to visit,and this doesn’t mean that you must not visit of course but you have to put yourself in the mood, or have read or re-read a good book about the battle,or again have a good guide to imagine how troops moved around, where the attacks were etc.
Being a weekday I was nearly on my own but so far so good it was more relaxing than visiting amongst a crowd of camera-mad Japanese 😉
Just a few remarks:
Plus point is the entrance price, 8€
Bad point is that the Battlefield Tour in a coach that takes you around the different places of the battle is only available from April the first although the website mentions it goes all year round.
There are identical explanation posters (one for the general state of Europe in the early XIX century, one for the Ligny battle, one for the, one for the day of the 18th of June on the Battlefield itself, the scales are not the same from one poster to another which isn’t a crime in itself, it’s supposed to give you a kind of “focus on” impression but didn’t work with me. The model farm in the hall of the panorama building, made to explain how troops fought against each other doesn’t have a single word of explanation which is quite sad. Of course, you can always figure out what farm it is or its story on that fateful day but still, it could do with a word or two of explanation which is shouldn’t be too much of a cost I think.
The council of Waterloo should have bought the different farms around (La Haie Sainte, Hougoumont..) just like Wellington’s pub headquarters in the center of Waterloo is now a museum What is surprising is that, now that won’t be much of a surprise when you know that the battlefield is managed by a French company, “Culturespaces”, also owning French places such as Chateau des Baux de Provence or Pont du Gard to name just a few.
I had the feeling that everything was so Napoleon-centered and the fact that there were more souvenirs of Napoleon than of Wellington did not help, especially when you know that it’s the Battle of Waterloo that was determinant in the fall of Napoleon.
It was well worth a visit but there’s much more that could be done out of and for this great historical site !
° Before and After Waterloo.Letters from Edward Stanley (sometime Bishop of Norwich) 18021814-1816,repris dans le Bulletin de la Société D’Histoire Napoléonienne, 1963 pp.26-32