Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the footsteps of Napoleon - Austerlitz

The Battle of Austerlitz a.k.a. The Battle of the Three Emperors took place in 1805 in the area called Austerlitz (called Slavkov in Czech) about 10km southeast of Brno. It was a battle between French empire led by Napoleon and Russian-Austrian army led by the Alexander I from Russia (Francis II from Austria was said to be away from the battlefield). The battle was a huge victory for Napoleon's side. The number of deaths in the Russian-Austrian army was 15,000 v.s. 1,305 in the French army. It was tactics that led Napoleon to this huge win.

We had the honor to visit the field where the battle took place. Actually the field is some kilometers west of Austerlitz; very close to the village called Prace where our friend Marta lives with her family. Prace is a beautiful village with lots of green and gently-sloping hills. There is a chapel called The Peace Memorial on top of one of the hills built between 1910 and 1912 that holds the bones of those who perished in the battle . I heard that they are still finding bones after 200 years later, and those newly found bones are kept in a coffin which is placed inside the chapel (once it gets filled, they are moved to the basement). There are two statues of women by the entrance to the chapel. One is said to be a mother of a deceased soldier covering her face. The other is the bride-to-be who lost her future husband in the battle. In any era, wars bring sorrow to those who are left behind.

The interesting part about the chapel is that it is constructed so that two people at diagonally opposite corner approx. 20m away can hear each other even if they whisper with tiny little voice. I did the test with my hubby, and surprisingly you can hear the other VERY clearly as if the voice is coming from a speaker above your head. Amazing!

There is a small but well-organized museum next to the chapel. The museum is divided into 4 parts. The entrance section gives you the overview of the battle. The next three sections are completely divided by a door that can only be opened by the museum employees. In each section, you learn about the battle by watching the video (available in English, too). Btw, you are not allowed to take any pictures inside. Highly prohibited. The museum lady will come after you IF you did. How do I know?

Leaving the museum behind, we headed to the town of Austerlitz (Slavkov). There is a palace with an impressive looking French garden where an armistice was signed between Austria and France after the battle on Dec 2, 1805. By the time we got there, the palace was closed, but we had a chance to walk around the garden which sort of looked like a miniature and simplified version of Versailles. The garden has 4 big basins with the fountains and 47 sculptures, and it is a good place to have a walk and hang out on nice days.

The battle certainly changed the course on European history. The Treaty of Pressburg was signed on Dec 26, 1805 between France and Austria, which practically led to the end of Holy Roman Empire.

Anyway, the day was wonderful. Before heading to the monument, Marta invited us over to her place in Prace to have a wonderful lunch with her family.

Her mom's homemade duck and dumplings with the Czech-style sauerkraut were just so delicious. And the meal was perfectly completed with the homemade strudel. I felt I finally ate a real Czech meal, which I loved.

If I had been born there, I probably wouldn't want to live in a city. Life there seemed to be self-contained and down-to-earth. The value of life with family and nature is something that is hard to find in a busy city.

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