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In the footsteps of Napoleon III…

Discover the key places that marked the life of Napoleon III. To follow in the steps of the last ‘Emperor of the French’, why not start with Arenenberg in Switzerland…

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• 1 • Arenenberg (Switzerland)
The future Napoleon III, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, was born in Paris on 20 April 1808. With the fall of the First French Empire in 1815, his mother, Queen Hortense, chose to set up home in Switzerland and purchased an estate at Arenenberg, near Lake Constance. Louis-Napoléon was given an education worthy of his rank and led an athletic childhood. He spent his summers in Italy, where a large part of the Bonaparte family was living in exile.

• 2 • Strasbourg (France)
In 1836, Louis-Napoléon plotted against the French government. He wanted to seize power and restore the Bonaparte dynasty to the throne. Although this coup d’état failed, it raised Louis-Napoléon’s profile in the minds of the French people. Louis-Napoléon was arrested and had to leave for the United States.

• 3 • Boulogne (France)
Having returned to Europe after his brief exile in America, Louis-Napoléon organised a second conspiracy in 1840 and disembarked on French shores at Boulogne. He sought to profit from the popular movement which accompanied the decision of the government to bring the body of his uncle, Napoleon I, buried on St Helena, back to France. But this also failed. This time, Louis-Napoléon was harshly condemned to prison for the rest of his days. He was imprisoned at the Fort de Ham, in the Somme region.

• 4 • Fort de Ham (France)
After the failure of his attempt to seize power in 1840, Louis-Napoléon was imprisoned for five and a half years at the Fort de Ham in the Somme. A small apartment was set up for him, he had his own library and was able to receive visitors. During his imprisonment, he wrote De l’extinction du paupérisme: in this work, he elaborated his vision of society and the progressive measures he wanted to introduce in France. On 25 May 1846, disguised as a painter, Louis-Napoléon escaped and took refuge in England.

• 5 • London (England, UK)
After escaping from the Fort de Ham in 1840, Louis-Napoléon took refuge in England. He had many friends in London, who took him in and helped him prepare for his political reinstatement in France.

• 6 • Paris: Elysée Palace (France)
In 1848, France underwent another revolution. The government was overturned and elections were organised. Louis-Napoléon was elected to the constituent assembly, responsible for drawing up a new constitution. The Second Republic was set up and a president had to be elected by universal suffrage (although only men were eligible to vote). On 10 December 1848, Louis-Napoléon became the first president of the French Republic. He was subsequently known as the Prince-President and took up residence at the Elysée palace.
This palace is not open to the public, as it is still the residence of the President of the French Republic. But on the occasion of the French national heritage open days, held every year, it is possible to visit a few of the rooms.

• 7 • Saint-Cloud (France)
On 2 December 1852, the Prince-President reinstated the Empire and became Emperor of the French under the name Napoleon III. The Second Empire was born. Like his uncle Napoleon I, Napoleon III made the Château de Saint-Cloud, near Paris, one of the residences of the Imperial court and a place for the exercise of power.
The Château de Saint-Cloud burned down in 1870, but the magnificent park remains. A small museum retraces the history of the château.

• 8 • Paris: Notre-Dame (France)
On 30 January 1853, Napoleon III married Eugénie de Palafox Guzman from Spain in the cathedral of Notre-Dame, making her Empress of the French. Napoleon III had been attracted by the young lady’s great beauty, but also by her determined and self-assured nature. Three years later, the Prince Imperial was born on 16 March 1856.

• 9 • Sebastopol (Ukraine)
In 1854, France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire joined ranks against Russia. The war was waged in the Crimea, near the Black Sea. On 20 September 1854, the French won a major victory at Alma. Then on 8 September 1855, the port of Sébastopol was captured after a year-long siege. A peace treaty, the Treaty of Paris, was signed on 30 March 1856. Emerging triumphant from this test, Napoleon III consolidated the French imperial regime in the face of the other European countries.

• 10 • Plombières (France)
On 21 July 1858, Napoleon III and Cavour, minister to the King of Italy Victor-Emmanuel, met in secret at Plombières, a small spa resort in the Vosges. Together they set up Italian unity: the unification of the small Italian principalities and of Victor-Emmanuel’s kingdom against Austrian domination. On 3 May 1859, Napoleon III committed France to a conflict on Italian soil against the Austrians.

• 11 • Solférino (Italy)
In Italy the French army won the battles of Magenta (4 June 1859) and Solférino (24 June). This last battle was particularly bloody and shocking to the spirits. Napoleon III signed the armistice of Villafranca on 8 July 1859.

• 12 • Paris : Palais du Louvre (France)
Like his uncle Napoleon I, Napoleon III undertook major work to expand the Louvre, one of the largest museums in the world. The work began as early as 1851 and finished in 1865. During the Second Empire, the museum received new works of art to enrich its collections.

• 13 • Paris: Boulevard Haussmann (France)
Napoleon III made Baron Haussmann responsible for transforming Paris in order to modernise the capital city. For many years, Paris was a building site, wide avenues and expansive squares were intended to help their users circulate more freely. But opinions were divided. For some, the capital lost its charm with the destruction of numerous old districts. For others, the tall buildings with their almost identical façades brought a consistent elegance to the avenues.

• 14 • Paris: Bois de Boulogne (France)
In 1852, the wood at Boulogne was transformed into a park, open to the public. This vast green space offered the opportunity for excursions on horseback or on a boat on the lake. The park was landscaped and included waterfalls. The imperial couple were often seen there, accompanied by their son. Other parks and gardens were to be created in Paris, to enable Parisians to go for a walk and enjoy themselves in the open air.
Twice as large as Central Park in New York, the Bois de Boulogne remains very popular with the Parisians. Attractions include the zoological gardens (Jardin d’acclimatation) with their menagerie, the Bagatelles gardens with their many varieties of rose, and the botanical gardens of Serres d’Auteuil.

• 15 • Paris: Gare du Nord (France)
In 1865, the Gare du Nord was completed. It symbolised the evolution of the railway in France. This mode of transport brought provincial cities and Paris closer together, and made it possible to transport goods more quickly and in larger volumes. It transformed the habits of the French: in this way the wealthiest people discovered the joys of a holiday by the seaside or in the mountains.

• 16 • Compiègne (France)
The Imperial couple particularly liked this palace and its gardens. They came here often, accompanied by numerous friends. The event might be a party, with theatre or a concert, or quieter evenings devoted to playing board games. The Château de Compiègne houses the Museum of the Second Empire and preserves numerous apartments once belonging to Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie.

• 17 • Biarritz (France)
In 1854, Napoleon III had a summer villa built at Biarritz, by the seaside. This was called Villa Eugénie, built in the shape of an “E” in homage to the Empress. In 1867, a first floor was added. Biarritz became a fashionable city for summer holidays and hosted European aristocracy. Empress Eugenie sold her property in 1880. It has now become a luxurious palace.
In October 1865, the Emperor met here in secret with Bismarck, chancellor (or head of government) of the kingdom of Prussia, to discuss German unity. As with Italian unity, Napoleon III supported this idea.

• 18 • Querétaro (Mexico)
In 1861, France attempted to found an empire in Central America, in Mexico, so as to combat the dominance of the United States. Despite several victories, this endeavour failed. Maximilian of Austria, chosen as Emperor by Napoleon III, was executed by firing squad by the Mexicans at Queratero on 15 May 1867.

• 19 • Suez Canal (Egypt)
On 17 November 1869, Empress Eugenie represented imperial France in the orient, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Suez Canal. Construction work, begun in 1854, was directed by the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, and made it possible to connect the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea. The canal therefore measures 162 km long, 54 m wide and 8 m deep.

• 20 • Sedan (France)
In 1870, war broke out between France and the kingdom of Prussia. The German forces crushed the French. At Sedan, Napoleon III and his troops fell back to the city fortress on 1 September. The next day Napoleon III surrendered and was taken prisoner. He was sent to Germany to be imprisoned (in the palace of Wilhemhöhe at Kassel, in Westphalia), where he was to remain for several months. The fall of the Second French Empire was officially proclaimed on 4 September 1870.
The city museum retraces in detail the battle at Sedan in 1870, and displays souvenirs, weapons, and paintings. The fortress at Sedan is the largest in Europe.

• 21 • Farnborough (England, UK)
In March 1871, Napoleon III and his family were exiled to England. They set up home in Chislehurst in the county of Kent (southeast England). The deposed Emperor died there on 8 January 1873.
After the death of her husband and that of her son in 1879, Eugenie settled in Farnborough, in the south of England. She built an abbey there to house the remains of Napoleon III and of the Prince Imperial. She was also interred there herself after she died in 1920.

• 22 • Mount Itelezi (South Africa)
On 1 June 1879, the Prince Imperial, enlisted in the British army, was killed on Mount Itelezi, in Zululand, a region of South Africa which was in revolt against Britain which had aspirations to colonise this region. His body was repatriated to England to be interred alongside Napoleon III.

(December 2020)

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