I Come to Praise Caesar


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October 27th 2017
Published: October 27th 2017
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It was back on the history trail on Friday as I headed to the new (since I last visited France) museum at Alise-Saint-Reine, north of Beaune. I was really looking forward to visiting the museum which covers the battle of Alesia, the last major battle in Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. I have read much about the battle, so I didn’t expect to learn much from the museum, but I wanted to see the place I had read so much about.

I left Beaune after breakfast, and the drive took about an hour and a half as I still have the gps set to avoid tolls. I am really liking the drives I take off the motorways and the drive to Alise-Saint-Reine was no exception. The weather wasn’t the best, with some light rain along the way, but driving through the countryside and through some lovely little villages was enjoyable.

I had done some google maps research before leaving for France, so the gps surprised me by taking me into the town because I thought the new museum was down on the plains below the town. I think the gps must have been taking me to an older version of the museum because it took me to a non-descript building that was certainly not the museum.

As I was in town anyway, I decided to head up to the top of the hill and visit the statue of Vercingetorix, the commander of the Gallic forces in the battle. The statue was erected during the reign of Napoleon III, who instigated the search for the real site of the famous battle. The statue is completely inaccurate from an historical perspective, and some say it even looks like Napoleon III in his younger days. It is impressive though, and the fog (which had apparently moved from Beaune for the day) lent it an atmospheric feeling.

I then headed out of town and onto the plain where the new museum is located. The building itself is quite impressive, being circular and decorated with interesting sloping lines. I headed inside and was disappointed to find out that the museum displays only take up one floor. I bought a joint ticket to go and visit the ruins of the Gallo-Roman town afterwards, and was hoping that it would all be enough to fill up the day. I needn’t have worried.

To
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Alesia MuseoParc
start off there are audioguides available in French, German and, thankfully, English. Entry into the permanent exhibition is underneath impressive sculptures of Roman and Gallic soldiers clashing above you. The first part of the exhibit covers the cultures of the Romans and Gauls, and there are some excellent multimedia panels to explore in more depth if you wish. I wished, but it was still a little light for my tastes, but very interesting.

The next section covered the soldiers themselves, their organisation and arms and armours. Most of the items on display are reconstructions, but I didn’t mind that. There are many museums that have rusty swords and pieces of shields, so it was good to see how the items would have looked back in the day. There was quite a lot to digest and I spent much time reading every panel, which again were in French, German and English.

Next was the details of the battle itself. After some great information about the campaigns leading up to the battle of Alesia, there are two ways to find out about the battle itself. One was some more panels with great maps, and the other is a film. Of
Roman legionariesRoman legionariesRoman legionaries

Alesia MuseoParc
course, I back-tracked and did both. The film itself wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, but I really enjoyed the 3d map in front of the screen that lit up to show where the various forces were located during the sequences of the film.

The final section was about Napoleon III and his push to lift Vercingetorix as a French national hero, and the subsequent portrayal of him and the Gauls as legends. Most of this I was unfamiliar with because it was French-focussed, but of course I smiled when I saw the mention of Asterix and Obelix, one of my favourite childhood comics.

With the museum exhibition finished, it was up onto the top level to view the surrounding countryside. This is where the round museum building came into its own, as it gave 360-degree panoramic views, and panels indicated the various camps and battle sites that you can see. Thankfully the rain had stopped and the fog lifted, so I could see everything.

The next part of the museum is down some stairs to the ground and out the back to a reconstruction of the Roman fortifications. One of the things that was famous
Gallic warriorsGallic warriorsGallic warriors

Alesia MuseoParc
about the battle was the extensive fortifications that Caesar and his men built to trap Vercingetorix and the Gauls in their hill fort (or oppidum). When some Gauls penetrated the Roman lines to go for reinforcements, Caesar had his men build a second set of fortifications facing outwards in order to protect his men from being attacked on both sides. The inner fortifications were a total of 16km long, the outer fortifications were 21km. Around the double-fortifications were multiple fortified camps so that penetration of one part would not cause the whole lot to be captured. It was an impressive engineering project, all the more so because it was only designed to be temporary.

The reconstructed fortifications at the museum showed just how much work went into it all, and it’s amazing to imagine what the entire fortifications would have been like. There were towers built every 18-20m along both walls, and outside the walls were multiple ditches and various traps to hinder the attackers. For all of Caesar’s faults as a ruthless warlord, he was extremely good at what he did and rightly deserves to be known as one of history’s greatest generals.

With my visit to the exhibitions over, I had a look around the gift shop. I was very tempted to buy one of the replica swords they had for sale, but the one I liked was a little damaged so I asked if they had another. Unfortunately they didn’t, so combined with the slightly cheap feel of the handle, I left empty-handed. I also had a look in the restaurant to see if I could get a light snack, as it was now 4pm and I had arrived at midday so was starting to feel a bit peckish. However, the restaurant only had a multi-course buffet and I didn’t feel like that so I left to head up to the Gallo-Roman ruins.

I headed back into town and up the hill near where the statue of Vercingetorix is. I had purchased a combined ticket, so even though I was quite tired I figured I should have a look. The town became a Gallo-Roman town after the battle and while the town was small, there are quite a few ruins there. The two most impressive were probably the theatre and the basilica, two buildings that no Roman town could live without. The ruins were all pretty much down at ground level, so they weren’t particularly spectacular. But it was interesting to see the small size of everything in an average town of the time, rather than the usual cities you see.

And with that I headed back to Beaune, quite tired. It was an interesting drive on the way back, even though I went mostly the same way (the gps took me on an interesting detour at one stage through a couple of country lanes). As the sun had come out, it was almost a completely different countryside. I arrived back just on dark and was disappointed to find the hotel carpark full. There’s a nearby parking lot so it’s not that big a deal, but it looks like the tourist population of Beaune has increased because of the weekend. Bloody tourists…


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Gallic armourGallic armour
Gallic armour

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Roman swordsRoman swords
Roman swords

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Roman shieldsRoman shields
Roman shields

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Roman artilleryRoman artillery
Roman artillery

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Roman armour and shieldRoman armour and shield
Roman armour and shield

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Roman swords

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The outer fortificationsThe outer fortifications
The outer fortifications

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