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Martigny celebrates its Napoleonic past

Napolean parade


The Swiss town of Martigny, in canton Valais, has been celebrating an epic moment in its history that helped change the course of European history.

Two hundred years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte and his army marched into Martigny on their way to northern Italy. There, the French forces surprised and defeated the Austrian army at the Battle of Marengo.

The battle was a turning point in the war in northern Italy. It forced the Austrians to the negotiating table and heralded several years of relative peace. It also marked out Napoleon, then the French First Consul, as a major historical figure.

From Martigny, Napoleon took 46,000 men, 6,000 horses, 300 wagons and 30 cannon over the Great St Bernard Pass, which was still covered in snow. This outflanking manoeuvre is reckoned by many experts to be one of the great feats in military history. Not surprisingly, the event is seen as a defining moment in the town's history.

Napoleon chose Martigny as the springboard for his campaign because it was the last town before the Pass - the quickest route from the Lake Geneva area to northern Italy.

"Napoleon's stay here was an important moment for Martigny, but also for the whole of Europe," says Georges Saudan, head of the town's tourism office. "Everyone here knows the story - where Bonaparte stayed and his journey over the Great St Bernard Pass."

Hundreds of members of historical re-enactment societies took part in a procession through the town. Many are going on to Marengo to commemorate the battle itself. There will be further celebrations in Martigny from 14th - 16th July to mark Napoleon's triumphant return.

There are also a number of other attractions, including a selection of weapons and uniforms and works of art depicting the crossing of the mountains at the town's Old Arsenal, and an exhibition of caricatures of Napoleon at the Manoir.

by Roy Probert


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