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Europe commemorates 200 years since Waterloo

Ben McPartland · 18 Jun 2015, 09:39

Published: 18 Jun 2015 09:39 GMT+02:00

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Thousands of spectators descended on the fields of Waterloo on Thursday to commemorate 200 years since British and Prussian forces defeated Napoleon’s French army.

Hundreds of performers will take part in the open-air evening event titled "Inferno", which will have space for up to 12,000 spectators.

"Inferno will not be a re-creation but a personal vision, full of emotion and with a lot of the spirit of cinema," said event director Luc Petit.

Up to 300 actors will take part in the show on a stage 150 metres long, with giant screens, pyrotechnics, dancers, classical musicians and local choirs promising a noisy experience.

A special battle reconstruction involving 6,000 actors  - twice the size of the annual Waterloo re-enactment will also staged by history enthusiasts over Friday and Saturday.

All in all 200,000 visitors are expected to at the site over the four days of commemorations.

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel was on the scene on Thursday afternoon. 

"Waterloo, the folly and the grandeur. The horror and the genius. The tragedy and then the hope," he said in an opening address under leaden skies.
The French authorities have been less vocal and certainly less present on the scene. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was ambiguous at best about the ceremonies.
"I heard it said this morning that President (Francois Hollande) and myself should have been there so that we could shed our tears over this fearsome moment for our country," Valls said.The Battle of Waterloo is considered to be one of the key clashes in the history of Europe and ended 20 years of war across the continent.

Around 50,000 men mainly from France, Britain and Prussia died on the battlefield.

Nearly 180,000 men fought for more than 10 hours, between 11am and 8pm.

While representatives from several European countries will attend the commemorations over the coming days, France has declined to send any high ranking official.

President François Hollande will be elsewhere leading a very different service in memory of an historic event.

Waterloo: Still a taboo for the French 200 years on

The head of state will preside over a ceremony at Mont-Valérien to mark the 75th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s famous appeal to the nation on the BBC, which is seen as the origin of the French Resistance.

Speaking on Thursday France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian dismissed the hullaballoo, (mainly in sections of the English press) around the lack of a French presence at Waterloo.

“History is behind us,” he told BFM TV before suggesting the real reason why many in France feel no need to remember the former Emperor.  

"Napoleon often led France down blind alleys," he said.

Story continues below…

The run up to the commemoration has been a little fraught for France. Not only has it been accused of snubbing the ceremony but neighbours Belgium provoked the wrath of French leaders by minting a special €2.5 commemorative coin.

On Wednesday evening Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall visited Waterloo to lay a wreath in memory of the British, Dutch, Prussian and Belgian soldiers who lost their lives.

The Prince was given a tour of the ground over which bloody battle took place.

He will also attend a ceremony in St Paul’s Cathedral, London on Thursday along with some descendants of those who fought at Waterloo.

Organisers say the service will not be triumphalist.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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