On the afternoon we arrived in Brussels, after some difficulties checking into our hotel, we immediately headed out to take advantage of the remaining daylight. Our first destination – Waterloo Battlefield. The battlefield is only a short, 20-minute drive from the city of Brussels. Both the train and a bus will get you out there as well, but arriving via car is the quickest and easiest route if you can swing it. We had Jo as our chauffeur, so she made sure to give us the grand tour along the way, too.
Waterloo Battlefield is pretty easy to spot if you’re driving in – just look for the giant hill, also known as the Lion’s Mound. The hill is surrounded in all directions by gorgeous farmland, preserving the site where one of Europe’s most famous battles was fought.
A little history – Waterloo Battlefield is the site of Napoleon’s final defeat by the Seventh Coalition, a collection of armies made up of pretty much every other country in Europe at the time besides France, and led by the Duke of Wellington from England and Gebhard von Blücher of Prussia. On the 18th of June 1815 at noon, the Seventh Coalition rose up against Napoleon and the French army, and nine hours later the French retreated. The French Empire was crushed, Napoleon went into exile, and Europe lived in peace for the next fifty years until the Crimean War.
So what can you see here now? It depends on how deeply invested you want to get into its history. There are guided tours available that will take you through the surrounding countryside where you can visit important sites and monuments from the battle, or you can go the cheaper route and stay on-site where you can climb the hill, visit the museum and Napoleon’s headquarters, see the panorama, and view a couple movies depicting the battle. Since we arrived less than an hour before closing time, we chose the cheapest package available – just the panorama and the hill for €7 per person.
Given that they were about to shut the place down, the receptionist recommended we see the panorama first. I’m not going to lie to you – it looked a little tired, and not just because the 110 meter round canvas was painted over 100 years ago in 1912. The whole exhibit was just old-looking in general. We didn’t spend much time in here before moving on to what brought us out here in the first place – the Lion’s Mound.
226. That’s how many steps you’ll have to climb if you want to reach the summit of the Lion’s Mound. When you arrive at the top, thighs burning and breathless, you’ll have a clear view in all directions of the fields where 350,000 men once fought, 50,000 of which were wounded or lost their lives.
The Lion’s Mound was built by the Dutch using earth from the battlefield to commemorate the site where the Prince of Orange, from the Netherlands, was injured in battle. Many other monuments to fallen soldiers can be found in the surrounding area, but the Lion’s Mound is certainly the largest and most well-known.
It was a beautiful day, and I’m glad we soaked up that sunshine while we could. It was the last time we saw the sun until we got back to London, which is saying something. And those views of the fields and farmland – they were gorgeous! It’s hard to picture this peaceful setting ever being the site of such a ferocious battle. Some of the farmhouses that can be seen in the distance were actually around at the time of the Battle of Waterloo – that’s one front row seat I’d have declined.
So is Waterloo Battlefield worth the journey out from Brussels? If you’re like me and you enjoy making historical connections with the places you visit and you’ve got someone willing to give you a lift, then definitely yes! Currently, much of the museum next to the hill is under construction so there are certain things that may be closed when you pay a visit. Considering the state of what little we saw of the inside, the construction is most definitely a good thing. When it’s complete, I could see this monument and museum totally being worth the journey even if you have to come by train or bus, but until then, climbing the Lion’s Mound is the only real highlight of the experience (unless you pay for a tour), so keep that in mind if you’re considering a visit.
And now I’ll leave you with a few black and white photos from the battlefield. I’ve been playing around with editing in Lightroom and I pretty much suck at it, but I suppose I can only go up from here!
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