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.