The place that many a European monarch or conqueror has picked to fight his wars or battles, Belgium is littered with battlefields.
As early as the Romans and as late as the Second World War, the fields of Flanders and the fortresses of Wallonia have always been the meeting point(s) of many armies. The Flemish plains, dotted with strategic vantage-point hills, were ideal battlefields, as well as a useful corridor to let armies and logistics pass through.
I’ve already talked about Ypres and Flanders Fields, an area that got completely leveled in the First World War, and now I’m traveling back in time to 1815 (I know, I’m not being very chronological, am I?).
The Battlefield of Waterloo
That year was when the legendary Battle of Waterloo was fought near the town of Waterloo, which is located about 15 kilometers south of Brussels. In that historic battle, the armies of Prussia, Austria, Great Britain and Russia collided with the French army of Napoleon. Napoleon lost and, after abdicating, was banished from Europe.
The battlefield is still very much there nowadays and has remained pretty much unchanged. It is arguably one of the most significant historic sites in Europe; for the battle changed the future and shape of Europe forever. Peace finally returned to Europe for a few decades.
The main landmark at the Battlefield of Waterloo is the Lion’s Mound, a large artificial hill shaped as a cone that rises up from the flat surrounding farmlands. It marks the location where William II of the Netherlands, also known as the Prince of Orange, was wounded during the battle. The huge lion statue at the mound’s top symbolizes courage and looks vigilantly in the direction of France. You can climb the 226 steps to the top and enjoy a fantastic 360-degree panoramic view of the countryside and former battlefield.
Before and during the battle, the English army was stationed in Waterloo – the headquarters was in an inn that is now the Wellington Museum. The army of Napoleon was camping in and around the Caillou Farm. The English army, including the Belgian-Dutch army and led by the Duke of Wellington, was slightly outnumbered by the French army. The French lost, however, after the Prussian army of General Bücher had come to the rescue.
The battle got its name because the Duke of Wellington sent out a victory dispatch from his headquarters in Waterloo. The impact of the battle cannot be underestimated; more than 120 towns and sites all over the world now have the name Waterloo. The Duke of Wellington, too, gave his name to many placed around the globe.
Visiting the Battlefield of Waterloo will take up a full day. Highlights include the Lion’s Mound with the panoramic views from the top, historic battle films and an impressive panoramic battle painting; the Wellington Museum; the Caillou Farm; and the Hougoumont Farm.
It’s an easy day trip from the Belgian capital and absolutely worth your time when staying in Brussels. You can get there by bus, by bicycle or by car.