Napoleon returns to France 200 years on

Napoleon returns to France 200 years on
Napoleon (or an actor that looks very like him) returns to France after 200 years. Photo: Jean-Christophe Magnenet/AFP
Thousands of spectators looked on on Sunday as Napoleon Bonaparte made a dramatic return to France, landing on a beach on the Côte d'Azur, from where he is expected to make his way to Paris and then on to Waterloo.

Standing proudly at the front of a boat, arms crossed behind his back and dressed simply in a grey coat, Napoleon landed in southern France on Sunday, announcing "It's good to be back!"

Thousands of spectators gathered on the beach at Golfe-Juan on the Cote d'Azur to watch the re-enactment of the French dictator's arrival exactly 200 years ago.

Napoleon Bonapart returns to France. Photo: Tari van Collem-Handayani

Napoleon had been held for 10 months on the prison island of Elba, off the coast of Italy, before he escaped his exile.

It took him three days to make the crossing with a fleet of seven ships and 1,200 men who had managed to sneak past his British captors, landing on March 1, 1815.

The re-enactment two centuries later was slightly more modest, but still involved 200 performers and an impressive beating of drums.

Napoleon's guard was here to welcome him back. Photo: Tari van Collem-Handayani

Napoleon lookalike Frank Samson, a Parisian lawyer has been playing the role for a decade.

"Victory march on the double!" he cried to his assembled men on the beach. "The eagle and the national colours will fly from steeple to steeple, all the way to the towers of Notre Dame."

Elisabeth de la Boulangere, Napoleon's devoted cook, helped his departure from Elba.

On Sunday, she was played by Laura, an Italian expert on the era and battle re-enactments enthusiast.

"In principle, women were not allowed at battles, but there were always some. Either they were disgraced nobles, or wives of soldiers, or women of the night … which I might add is not the case with me," she said.

From Golfe-Juan, Napoleon marched north towards Paris, returning power to the royalists but ultimately suffering defeat at Waterloo on June 18.

The Emperor talks to some of his army members on the Golf-Juan beach. Photo: Tari van Collem-Handayani

Some of Sunday's troop of actors will make the same trip over the coming weeks.

"I can't wait to get stuck in!" said one cavalryman relaxing on the beach.

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