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The Battle of Alésia in 52BC was a decisive turning point in the history of France when Vercingétorix, the mighty leader was defeated by Julius Caesar. The Roman troops surrounded the Gauls, starved them out and besieged them.
Julius Caesar arrived in Gaul, what we now know as France, in 58BC. The Gauls had established large hilltop towns or oppidums, notably at Bibracte near Autun and Vercingétorix was their supreme leader. In 52BC Vercingétorix attacked Caesar's army which was stationed between the Loire and the Yonne rivers but he was forced to withdraw to the stronghold at Alisiia as it was then called.
Caesar immediately embarked on immense engineering works developing a double line of fortification with traps,trenches and walls: one faced inwards to prevent the Gauls escaping and the other outwards to stave off attack from Gaulish armies coming to the rescue. Several hundred thousand Gauls fought tens of thousands of Romans it is thought, but after six weeks Vercingétorix surrendered to save his people. He was later put to death. As a Roman province, the region stabilized and became educated, Latin was taught, the culture developed, and modern day France was born.
Alise-Ste-Reine is situated on the steep slopes of Mont Auxois. It lays claim to being the site of this decisive battle. Napoléon III instigated excavations here between 1861 and 1865, revealing a large military presence, bones and objects, and he had a magnificent bronze statue of Vercingétorix erected immediately above the village. On its pedestal, the sculpture by Aimé Millet stands 13.6 m high (shown above centre). However, two other places in France lay claim to being the site of the battle and from 1991-1998 further excavations were carried out to prove whether this site was authentic or not. The mystery continues to this day.
A new Muséoparc opened at Alésia in 2012 to tell the whole story. This interpretation centre, shown below, is an impressive contemporary space, designed by architect Bernard Tschumi, situated down in the valley below the village of Alise-Ste-Reine. On the first floor of the rotunda there are impressive visual displays of the weaponry, the clothing, logistics, strategy for the Gallic and Roman armies and in the cinema, you can see an enactment of the siege. On the top floor look out onto the outdoor reconstruction of the Roman fortifications (top picture left) and enjoy the panoramic views.
There will also be a Discovery Trail on the archaeological area which sits on a very exposed ridge and has remains of the forum, Celtic temple and forges from which it gained its prosperity.
You can visit the statue of Vercingétorix at any time for a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. There is a free parking area.
Opening Times of the Museoparc
April - September, 9.00-18.00
Place to eat
Auberge du Cheval Blanc, Alise-Ste-Reine
Places to visit nearby
Pam Elson ©burgundytoday.com