It always does things to me to walk where they walked, the ones who changed history.  To see what they saw, perhaps with similar feelings.  The Trocadéro in Paris, overwhelmed by the Eiffel Tower, the specific place where Hitler and his colleagues had the well-known (or infamous) photographs taken, to stand in Picasso’s studio where in the Provencal summer he painted barechested.  Then too, there is a legend that St Paul himself walked these streets, something not unlikely at all.  Somewhere in the back of my head is the possibility that in this region, in a caved-in grotto, yet to be discovered, is the Letter to the People of Antipolis (later Antibes), written by St Paul.   What a shake-up that find would be.

"Le Maitre de l'Europe"

                   “Le Maitre de l’Europe”

Now it’s Napoleon Bonaparte, barely 223 years ago, that strolled these street as I do, saw what I see, but without doubt not with the same thoughts and feelings.

He came from an aristocratic family in Corsica and was trained in the military before the Revolution of 1789.  But he picked up serious problems with a political leader in Corsica and fled with his mother, brothers and sisters.  In Corsica there is a tradition of solving problems in a non-verbal way.  In Nissa (later Nice) he impressed Massena who led the army.  In the meantime his mother and the small tribe of siblings arrived at the Château Salé and this ushers in a time of joy for Napoleon, especially in the meeting of Pauline, the Borghese princess.

Chateau Salé, Antibes, today

                Château Salé, Antibes, today

The young captain was imposing with his Corsican accent, slim, almost thin, stiffly attired in the dark blue uniform of the artillery regiment.  The sharp intensity was channeled into energy.  He was briefed to reinforce the coastline from Nice to Marseilles against attacks.  On the Île de Lerins in the bay of Cannes I came upon Napoleon’s cannon supports in the forest, steps against royalist or other enemies, especially the English.

Cannon support, Ile de Lerins

                  Cannon support, Ile de Lerins

In Antibes itself he had the battery Graillon on the cap d’Antibes and considered it as a solid defence point.

Batterie du Graillon, Cap d'Antibes

                 Batterie du Graillon, Cap d’Antibes

But the Revolution in Paris had begun to devour its own and Robespierre was guillotined.  Since Napoleon had had considerable contact with Robespierre and his brother, he was suspected of conspiracy and arrested.

Steel engraving (1879) of Napoleon in Nice prison,

Steel engraving (1879) of Napoleon in Nice prison,

Wikipedia has it that he was detained in Nice.  The historian De la Souchére says it was in Fort Carée in Antibes, a moment in history that the Antibois are rather proud of.  The tour guide at the Fort smiled wryly at me when I asked him.  To tell you the truth, he said, we don’t really know.  The incarceration lasted all of two weeks.

Fort Carée, above Port Vauban, built 1580

        Fort Carée, above Port Vauban, built 1580

His life, one historian has said, was “stuff of legend”.  His legacy is, according to the same historian, the attempt to reconcile right and left with a Bonapartist thread that runs through the politics of the 19th-century to the leaders of 21st-century France.   Even if he met his Waterloo after astounding military success in Europe, he had established the secular state, amongst other things – the list is long – not only in France, but it took root elsewhere as well.  The impact was immense.

The Exile, by J.M.W. Turner

                   The Exile, by J.M.W. Turner

He died in 1821 on St Helena, where he had been incarcerated for almost six years.  After his death the legend, some say apotheosis, about him began to escalate and his tomb at Les Invalides in Paris is one of the biggest in the world.  It’s interesting for me to think that he and I had something in common, well, while he was on St Helena – Constantia wine from the Cape.  And fascinating for me is that Napoleon had a sort of court jester on the Island amongst his entourage.  After Napoleon had died, this man went to the Cape and settled there.  His descendant was my neighbour when I lived in Stellenbosch.



 © Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2017



Elena Dor de la Souchère :  Antibes 2500 ans d’histoire.  Maisonneuve & Larose, Ville d’Antibes. 2006.

Cecil Jenkins :  A Brief History of France.  Running Press, Philadelphia. 2011.



“Le maitre de l’Europe”  –  napoleonbonaparte.pagespersa –

Chateau Salé  –  plus;

Cannon support – my photo

Batterie du Graillon  –

Napoleon in prison  –

Fort Carée  –  my photo

“The Exile”  by Turner  –

Bonaparte  –








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