With Ridley Scott’s new cinematic epic Napoleon hitting theaters on Nov 22, there’s renewed interest in the French general and emperor, as well as an upswell in visitation to many of the places that are indelibly linked to his career as a military genius, government reformer and controversial ruler.
Born into a well-off Corsican family, Napoleon Bonaparte was enrolled in a military academy on the French mainland at the age of nine and graduated many years later as an officer in the French Army.
Showing the incredible daring and strategic acumen that would make him master of Europe, Napoleon used the chaos of the French Revolution as a springboard for his rise to power within the military and eventually all of France and half the continent.
More than 200 years after he met the original Waterloo, Napoleon’s legacy endures at numerous destinations in Europe and Africa.
“Nabulio” was born in 1769 in a house on the Rue Saint-Charles in Ajaccio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which had only just been ceded to France after five centuries under Italian rule.
Bonaparte family members continued to live there until the 1920s and the residence is now a French national museum with exhibitions and events related to Corsican culture and history, and Napoleon’s family.
Many of the rooms have been meticulously restored with period furnishings (including the room where Napoleon was born). Audio guides for self-guided tours are available in English and other languages.
The Pyramids of Giza & Sphinx (Egypt)
Having already earned kudos during battles in northern Italy, Napoleon led a 1798 invasion of Egypt, ostensibly to protect French trade routes to Asia.
After capturing Alexandria, he marched his troops toward Cairo and confronted an Ottoman Mamluk army on the west bank of the River Nile within eyesight of the great pyramids.
Napoleon easily triumphed but abandoned the invasion and quickly returned to France where the revolutionary government was in danger of falling.
For years, a myth endured that French soldiers destroyed the Sphinx’s nose with an errant artillery shot. But illustrations rendered much earlier clearly show the colossal statue minus its snout.
The lavish baroque chateau that once dominated this large, riverside park on the west side of Paris was destroyed in the 1870s. But it will long be remembered as the place where Napoleon and his allies staged a bloodless coup d’état against the ruling Directory in November of 1799.
The coup essentially ended the French Revolution and set in motion a series of events that enabled Napoleon’s dictatorship and 15 years of almost continuous warfare in Europe.
In addition to a history museum that revolves around Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew Napoleon III (who ruled France 1852-1870), the huge green space features Le Grande Cascade fountain, myriad hiking trails and the famed Sevres porcelain factory.
Austerlitz Battlefield (Czech Republic)
Many historians consider the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz as Napoleon’s tactical masterpiece, a triumph against the combined forces of Austria and Russia that cemented his standing as the greatest military mind of his time.
Landmarks recalling the battle revolve around Slavkov u Brna, around a two-hour drive from Vienna. Zamek Slavkov (Slavkov Castle) — where Napoleon celebrated his astounding victory — stages annual events like the Napoleonic Games in August and battlefield reenactments in December.
The Mohyla miru (Peace Monument) in nearby Prace includes a museum and memorial chapel dedicated to the soldiers of three nations that perished at Austerlitz.
After his defeat at the Battle of the Nations, the subsequent Coalition invasion of France and his abdication in 1814, Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba off the Italian coast.
His comfortable confinement in a hilltop villa lasted less than 10 months before he escaped and returned triumphantly to Paris to restore his crown and put into motion the events that would culminate at Waterloo.
The villa (now a museum) preserves much of the home décor authorized by Napoleon including a magnificent Egyptian Room dedicated to his victory at the Battle of the Pyramids.
The battle that spawned the term for ultimate defeat played out on June 18, 1815 in the countryside south of Brussels.
Having escaped from exile on Elba, Napoleon resurrected his Grand Army and marched north from Paris with a vision to revive his empire. A combined British-Prussian force crushed that dream at Waterloo with a decisive victory.
A modern underground Battlefield Visitor Center currently features the special exhibit “Expo ABBA: From Waterloo to the World.”
Visitors can summit the nearby Butte de Lion for an overview of the battlefield, view a 360-degree depiction of the clash inside the round Panorama building, sip craft beer inside the Wellington tavern, or dine on classic French cuisine at the Emperor’s Bivouac restaurant.
Following defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon was exiled for a second time, this time to the South Atlantic and the super-remote British island of St. Helena.
He lived another five and a half years, most of it residing in a colonial bungalow called Longwood House that’s now a museum managed by the French government.
After his death in May of 1821, his remains were initially buried near Longwood village that’s also open to the public.
In 1840, the French government successfully petitioned to have Napoleon’s body returned to Paris, where it was entombed beneath a majestic dome at the Hôtel des Invalides.
Originally a hospital and home for old and disabled soldiers, the sprawling baroque complex is also home to the Musée de l’Armée with its many Napoleonic relics including his beloved Versailles pistols and the epic painting Napoleon on the Throne.