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The city of Arcole is situated in the middle of swampland, near the confluence of the Adige and the Alpone about twenty kilometres southeast of Verona. It is famous for the three-day battle that took place there during the first Italian campaign, on 15, 16, and 17 November, 1796.
In order to prevent the Austrian troops of General Alvinczy (concentrated in Calderio) and those of his lieutenant Davidovitch from joining up while Wurmser was blocked at Mantua, Bonaparte’s army left Verona secretly on the evening of 14 November.

On the 15th, Augereau marched on Arcole but was not able to cross the famous bridge. Bonaparte attempted it in his turn, but could not get his troops to follow him. This episode inspired the painter Gros in his famous representation of the proud young general (National Museum of the Château de Versailles). On the 16th and 17th, the combat started up again; Bonaparte had a bridge built on the Alpone in order to allow Augereau’s divisions to pass and surprise the Austrian troops from the rear, allowing Massena (arriving from Ronco) to attempt to cross the bridge at Arcole. After three days of bitter fighting, Alvinczy finally beat a retreat.

Today, it is possible to visit the battle site with the famous bridge, still intact in its 1796 form, and an obelisk, built in 1810 on the right bank of the Alpone recalling the victory of the French over the Austrians. Two commemorative plaques bearing Latin inscriptions are affixed there, and translated they read:

Indignant at the hesitation of his soldiers
Having seized the standard, hurled himself onto the bridge
Gave his men the courage to fight
Destroyed the Austrians who returned the charge in vain
Brought eternal fame to the name of this place
15th November 1796


To Napoleon
Head of the French Army
In honour of his victory here wrested from the enemy,
A victory which was to bring him fame wherever he went,
Italy restored
to its brilliant destiny
and to the rights that will return to it its former glory
December 1810.

This Napoleonic obelisk figures on Arcole’s coat of arms.

There is a commemorative plaque in Italian on the other side of the bridge set into the wall of the little chapel of St. John:

Fought the enemy here
For three days in a closely-fought battle.
Here on the bridge,
With his own hand
He took up the beloved standard
And called his courageous subjects to victory.
Here he was victorious, bringing to this place eternal glory.

A visit to the small museum in the village near the church is the natural continuation of any visit to the Arcole battle site. The Museo Napoleonico of Arcole* opened in 1984 in a deconsacrated chapel, houses the collections of the Napoleon enthusiast, Gustavo Alberto Antonelli. In a decor inspired by military tents, the small exhibition rooms present an ensemble of documents and memorabilia relating to the battle and Napoleon. There are engravings, lithographs, proclamations and divers objects as well as reproductions of famous paintings of the period, by Gros, David, Géricault, Meissonier, etc., all copies executed by Antonelli himself. Also of note is Antonelli’s original work “The Entry of Napoleon into Cairo”. The last room is a reconstruction of the Emperor’s death chamber.

*Museo Napoleonico G. Antonelli
Via Nuova 37040 – Arcole (Vr)

Karine Huguenaud
Trans. P.H.

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