Tuesday, February 8, 2011


When Bonaparte drove the Austrian army out of northern Italy in early 1796 they left a strong garrison in the fortress of Mantua. The French laid siege to the city from May 1796 to February 1797. During that time the Austrian’s made four attempts to raise the siege, resulting directly in the battles of Castiglione, Caldiero, Arcola and Rivoli. It was only after the decisive defeat of the Austrian army at Rivoli that the garrison finally surrendered.

There is very little remaining of the once impressive city fortifications. The main exception is the citadel. The gate is impressive, though surrounded by a very run down collection of buildings. By the gate there is a memorial to Andreas Hofer who was executed here in 1810.

Mantua was then, and is now, surrounded by three artificial lakes, and walking around them you get views which must be very similar to those seen by the French gun crews during the siege.

We followed one of the paths from the citadel around the middle lake and across the dam and into the city

We could find nothing about the siege, but Mantua is a lovely city to explore. We spent an hour in the main square where we had lunch and read our notes on the siege.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


One of the best known incidents of the whole Napoleonic Wars was when Bonaparte seized a fallen flag and led his men in a desperate charge across the bridge at Arcola. The attack failed, but this example of his bravery went down in history. It’s strange that when the site of so many more important battles of the period is unmarked, there is this impressive monument to mark Arcola. And this is the site of the famous bridge (obviously not the original one) looking from the French side towards Arcola. The battle was fought over three days in November 1796. The French had defeated the Austrians at the battle of Caldiero, and to complete their destruction has to stop them retreating towards Vicenza. To do so they had to take Villanova. And to get to Villanova they had to cross the river Alpone at Arcola. Unfortunately the Austrian’s held the bridge, which despite repeated attacks the French were unable to take. The Austrians held the bridge for three days, which allowed their army to complete their retreat. The French finally took the town by crossing the river further south and attacking the bridge on both sides of the river. The French approached the bridge along this dike road which runs along side the river. This photo is taken from the French side of the bridge looking down the road towards Ronco. The river is out of sight just to the left of the road. This view is from the Austrian side of the river looking towards the area where the French made their repeated attacks across the bridge. The Austrians had deployed artillery to cover this whole area, so it is not too surprising that they held the bridge for so long. The river Alpone from the centre of the bridge looking towards Ronco. The French approached along the road on the right, the Austrians held the left bank. This is the view of Arcola which the French infantry would have had as they marched up the dike road towards the bridge. The area on the right was held by the Austrians. I assume that the river was wider then, as it looked quite fordable on the day we visited the area. Looking to their right as they neared the bridge, the French infantry would have seen this whole area held by Austrian infantry and artillery. Looking towards Ronco along the dike road from the French monument. The river Alpone is hidden at this angle, but is between the road on the right and the village on the left. The photo is taken just as the dike road begins to cross the bridge.

The dike road from the middle of the bridge. It is again clear just what a good field of fire the Austrians had of the only approach road to the bridge. This is not the original bridge, but is built in the same location. So the view would not have changed much.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


The battle was fought on 12 November 1796 to prevent Alvintzy reaching Verona. Bonaparte defeated the Austrians, who retreated to the west towards Montebello. The battle of Arcola would be fought three days later to hold the French and allow the Austrian retreat to continue.

After a day of rest and food shopping we set off early to explore Arcola, stopping at Caldiero on the way. There is not a lot to see in the town, which is much expanded since the battle and pretty tatty. However we did drive around the battle area and stopped at the village of San Marco, which was where the French launched their attack on the Austrians in and around Caldiero.

This more detailed map of the battle gives a better idea of the terrain, location of towns and the flow of the battle.

This building is typical of the local farms in the Caldiero and San Marco area

The road is modern, but follows the direction of the French attack on the Austrian positions on the hill in the centre distance.

The church stands on the cross roads in the small village of Belfiore. This village changed hands many times during the three day battle of Arcola. Massena repeatedly took this town from the Austrians to secure the left flank of Bonaparte’s attack on Arcola

The modern village of Belifore looks nothing like it would have done in 1796, and is not of much interest apart from the church.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


It was only about 15 miles from our camp site near Sirmione to Rivoli, one of Bonaparte’s most famous battles. Just before we reached Rivoli we found a road sign for Monte Pip0lo, a steep mountain just south of the town. This was the site of some minor fighting during the battle, but more important it provided excellent views of Rivoli. The town is close to the curve of the Osteria gorge (right in the photo above), and overlooked by the church of San Marco on the mountain behind. See the map below.

We found Rivoli with ease, and parked outside the small but excellent museum. It contains a diorama, which is useful for getting your bearings. We were also fortunate that the curator spoke English, as we spoke no Italian.

From the museum we walked to a nearby park to study our maps and notes and decide how to tackle the battlefield. Apart from maps, and the diorama in the museum, we had no directions or plan how best to walk the battlefield.
This is one of the maps we used for our visit. You will see that the main battle was fought in a semi circle just north of Rivoli. On the left of the half circle is Trombalore Heights, and we decided to start our walk there.
The road to Monte Baldo passes through the Heights, so we set off in the car. The Heights are obvious from the road, and we took this photo of them from the road. The Heights are the lower hill in the foreground, the mountain behind them is Monte Baldo. Despite knowing where the Heights were, we were unable to find a road or track leaving to them.
In desperation we returned to the museum in Rivoli, and asked the curator for directions. He immediately offered to take us there. He locked the museum, jumped in his car and set off at high speed, with us desperate to keep him in sight. The route took us over fields and along dirt tracks until we finally stopped behind him and he directed us to a small track leading to a ridge with this excellent view down towards Rivoli. Rivoli is just below the conical hill in the centre. Monte Pipolo is the mountain directly ahead. Monte Bando is the one on the left. An excellent spot to have our picnic lunch and identify the battlefield.
After lunch we determined to climb the steep hill leading to the site of the San Marco church, which was the scene of the most desperate fighting during the battle. It would also provide excellent views of the two Austrian approach routes. One was over Monte Baldo leading the San Marco church. The second was along the Aidge valley just below. Again see the map above. After a very hot and tiring climb we finally reached the site of the San Marco church. It was destroyed in the battle, and long since replaced by this World War One fort. This photo was taken just behind the fort and shows the path along which the Austrians had approached. There was no doubt that this was the exact scene of the hardest fighting. We would have loved to follow the path, but we had much more to see, and it was too late in the day to take on a new task. We walked to the edge of the hill, overlooking the Aidge valley. The smaller Austrian column commanded by Wukassovitch moved along the small road this side of the river but were stopped before they could reach Rivoli. See map above.
It was late afternoon when we set off to find the Rivoli monument. As part of our preparation I had read an article in an old issue of First Empire magazine about a visit to Rivoli, which mentioned the monument and had a photo of it. We knew it was in a field somewhere near Ceradino, so we drove to the village and showed the locals the photo. Eventually a help young man on a motorcycle took us on the long, winding path which took us to the monument in the middle of a field. We passed a number of private signs, so obviously visitors were not encouraged. A shame, for it is quite an impressive monument.

Thus ended our very successful and enjoyable to Rivoli.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monte Baldo

Our next battlefield on the list was Rivoli, where on 14 January 1797 Bonaparte defeated the Austrian general Alvintzy. The main Austrian advance was along Monte Baldo, which is the first mountain range to the right of Lake Garda in the map above.

We had a lovely day for the drive through Rivoli and along Monte Baldo. We found this pleasant spot for lunch and to read up on the battle.
A short distance north of Rivoli is the small village of La Corona, where the French attempted (but failed) to stop the Austrian advance.
Whilst exploring the area around La Corona we found a path leading downhill to an old monastery. It was not involved in the battle, but made a nice little detour

Along the path downhill was a “stations of the cross”, which led to the church itself – which is perched right on a ledge overlooking the Aidge valley.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


It took us a long time to find the tiny village of Girole, which is mentioned in Bernhard Voykowitsch’s book Castiglione 1796 as being a very good location to view the battlefield. The village was held by the Austrian’s during the combat of 3 August and formed the left of the French line during the main battle on 5 August.

From the village we managed to find the small road which leads to this shack, which we assumed to be for bird watching. It was very hot when we visited the site, and we sat inside drinking wine and eating our picnic lunch as I read Jan accounts of both battles. Finding this spot was the highlight of our day, as it provides the most magnificent views of both battlefields.

Thanks to “Castiglione 1796” we knew that there was no point in visiting the town itself, but that here was a nearby hill called Monte Corna at Grole, which provided the best views of the battlefield. We drove around for half an hour looking for a road leading to the hill, and eventually spotted a small road leading to a communications mast which stood the end of the steep approach road.

This map shows the locations where the following photos were taken, and the direction of the shot. It also shows the locations of both armies during the opening stages of the main battle on 5 August 1796. If you refer back to this map as you view the photographs they should make more sense.

Map arrow 1. Castiglione is just behind the wooded hills on the right, which were held by the Austrians on 3 August. The French advanced from Lonato, which is shrouded in mist in the centre of the photo. The Austrians then retreated through Grole to Solfernio. The buildings on the left are Grole.

Map arrow 2. Paul is pointing at the forming up position of the French army prior to the main battle on 5 August. The French line was along the line of trees centre left.

Map arrow 3. The view towards the Austrian position at Solfernio. La Rocca is the tower on the hill centre left. The French attack the Austrian right wing would have been over this ground.
Map arrow 4. This photo is taken from the Austrian side of the field. Solfernio and La Rocca are on the Austrian right. This is the view looking towards Grole (note the mast on the left of the hill). Solfernio castle is on the right and the Austrian position was directly in front and spread to the left. The French advance was from the wooded hills in the distance.

Map arrow 5. This photo continues the panorama to the right of the one above. The buildings on the right are Solfernio. The Austrian position extends to the left towards Monte Medolano, which is out of sight to the left.

Map arrow 6. The town of Solfernio is in the foreground and beyond lies Cavriana. It is clear that the French flank attack from Guidizzolo was well behind the Austrian left flank (see map above)

The best view by far from the Austrian side is from the top of La Rocca. Set on a wooded hill between the town and castle of Solfernio this tower dominates the entire area. The Red Cross was founded in Solfernio and there is a monument in the woods nearby.

Map arrow 7. By far the most difficult position to find was the redoubt of Monte Medolano, which formed the extreme left of the Austrian line. The small hill is now covered with trees and can only be recognized from the main road by the two cypress trees.

Map arrow 8. This is the view the French grenadiers would have had as they approached the redoubt. Its capture forced the Austrians to retreat.

We climbed the hill where the redoubt was sited but there was nothing to see due to the thick undergrowth and trees. Not the first time that a location which seemed to promise excellent views proved to be a disappointment.

Looking more like a deserted village than a castle, there were only a couple of cars parked when we arrived on a very hot afternoon.

Then we noticed a group of old women sitting outside one of the houses, and realised that they were occupied. This somehow made the square seem even more deserted and abandoned.

We followed the path uphill through the woods to La Rocca. This was the purpose of our visit and we spent an hour or so enjoying the views and reading sections of the battle report.