Column of the Grande Armée

Wimille, France

The Column of the Grande Armée is a 53 metre high Doric order triumphal column (modelled on Trajan's Column and other triumphal columns in Rome). It was intended to commemorate a successful invasion of England (an invasion that never occurred), but it now commemorates the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d'honneur at the 'camp de Boulogne', by Napoleon to the soldiers of the Army of England. The first stone was put in 1804, amidst great festivities and awards of decorations. The stone was sourced from local Marquis marble.

After the invasion force became the Grande Armée on 16 August 1804 and left Boulogne, work on the column became slow and erratic. On 3 December 1811, with the statue and bas-reliefs still waiting in Paris and the column having reached only 20 of its planned 50 metres. Work stopped completely in 1814 on Napoleon's fall and the statues and bas-reliefs were broken up and melted down with the bronze of the Napoleon statue from the Place Vendôme column for the Pont Neuf statue of Henry IV of France.

Work restarted in 1819 when the minister of the interior allocated it 30,000 francs, with additional credits granted in 1820. The platform on the top was put in place in 1821 and a royal globe crowned with fleurs de lys and a royal crown placed on top of that in 1823. After the regime change of the July Revolution, in 1831 the column was voted 10,000 francs for maintenance, the crown was removed and the fleurs de lys replaced by stars.

In 1831 the column was first named the Column of the Grande Armée and (also that year) it was climbed by queen Hortense and her son Louis-Napoléon (later Napoleon III). In 1838 it was decided to complete the works - François Joseph Bosio was charged with casting a new statue of the emperor and Lemaire and Théophile Bra new bas-reliefs - and in June that year marshal Soult was officially received at the column by the Boulogne National Guard, having not seen the column since 1805. In a failed coup of 1840 Louis-Napoleon landed a small body of his supporters at Boulogne, and ended up taking refuge in the park around the column and raising the imperial flag atop it, before fleeing to the beach, where he was arrested.

In the meantime Bosio's statue of Napoleon in his coronation costume (costing 60,000 francs and weighing 7,500 kilos) was completed in time for the return of Napoleon's ashes to Paris on 15 December 1840 and exhibited on the banks of the Seine, leaving Paris for Wimille on 21 July 1841.

The column survived the First World War intact. The column and the 1841 statue were seriously damaged by bombing in 1944, with the park around the column being turned into a German naval cemetery (with burials including that of Klaus Dönitz, son of admiral Karl Dönitz, in 1944). The original statue was replaced by a 4.75m high statue of Napoleon in chasseur uniform by Pierre Stenne. The new statue and the completed restoration works were inaugurated on 24 June 1962, in the presence of Charles de Gaulle, a troop detachment and a large crowd.

There is a pavilion to either side of the statue's base, and in the right-hand one is a free museum, housing the 1841 statue, now restored.



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Founded: 1804/1841
Category: Statues in France

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4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Fabienne Depret (3 years ago)
A ne pas louper. Pas très connu du grand tourisme à tort ! La montée est physique mais le panorama est éblouissant
Jan Hardy (3 years ago)
Lovely visit with spectacular views
Andrew Everard (3 years ago)
Worth a visit and great if you have the strength to climb the steps to the top of the column for great views of the channel. Museum open to learn more of the history and to see artefacts. Gardens around base of column to walk around. Worth a short visit to have a look around.
Garry Bolton (4 years ago)
Great climb to the top up a never ending spiral staircase, Amazing views of the surrounding country side and the south cost of England, 20 minutes drive from Calais well worth the visit 10/10
Stefano Figà-Talamanca (5 years ago)
If you can climb the 300 steps, the reward is an astounding view!
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