Sunday, 25 June 2017

Battle of Bussaco - 27 Sep 1810 - Battlefield Tour


I've got to present a conference paper in Coimbra this week, and seeing as its only 20-30km from Bussaco I thought it would be silly not to spend the weekend there first. It also just happens that the convent that was there during the battlefield is now surrounded by the Grand Palace Hotel - formerly a Ducal residence and now a faded but wonderful 5-starish hotel - which Deb and I actually managed to get at a good, if not cheap rate for the weekend. Taxi from Coimbra was Euro33.

I'm blogging this in the rather sumptuous lounge of the palace have seen the sights (or at least what we could on foot with rain looming in 26 degree temperatures and no decent map) this morning. So here's a photo-essay of the trip.


The Palace itself. Totally over the top decoration, even the pillars have pillars. The orange roofed/ochre walled building in the left side is the old convent (actually a monastery in English terms).


There are a whole load of tiled murals of Portuguese history and legend inside and out. There are about half-a-dozen relating the battle - this one showing the Portuguese and British troops repelling the French as they assault the ridge.


Nice one of Massena and his staff.


And Wellington to balance it out.


A nice study of a Dragoon trumpeter.

The first part of today's walk was up to the small museum (2 Euros) just outside the huge enclosed area (~3km x 4km?) of the convent forest.


Portuguese Line infantry man 1:1 painted outside the museum.



Inside the museum was a nice diorama of the battle with what looked like 25mm commercial figs and claiming to be 1/100th scale, but didn't look like 15s and too small to be 1/100 ground scale or even 1 figure = 100 men. There was also a smaller diorama made up of Airfix figs!

The walls had a nice big scale map of the battlefield and dispositions, and also a couple of huge charts of Portuguese Army units and which battles they fought in, including small skirmishes, and the strength by each rank of each unit of the Allied Army.

From a modelling point of view one of the most interesting aspects were two dummies of Cacadores - their uniforms being more of a khaki that the richer brown shown in the L&F books.


From the museum it was a short walk up to the battle monument,


The monument sits on the ridge above Sula, so just above where Crauford's Light Division repulsed Ney's attack. The slope is to steep and wooded to see it properly though. There is a good view however out E towards Moura where Marchand went against Pack's Portuguese.

We (well I) then wanted to walk out to Wellington's command post further along the ridge. Unfortunately its position was only very roughly marked on one local map, and not at all on another. Also paths beyond the convent walls were not shown! So we walk along a path about as far as the SE end of the convent wall which is in the right area, but couldn't see any sign - perhaps we should have stuck to the road route. However this certainly took us along the area occupied by Coleman's 6th Portuguese Brigade and where it was attacked by the lost 2/32nd Ligne. Whilst it would not have been so wooded this photo gives you an idea of the steepness and roughness of the terrain. We were even using hands to get over some of the outcrops.


Having failed to find the command post we turned from home, and at the Cruz Alta you get a superb view SE of the back of the length of the ridge.


And also out onto the plain to the SW.


It certainly highlights how the Bussaco ridge was the last serious obstacle to Massena before he could spread out onto the coastal plain.

A nice walk back through the woods along the Via Sacra, with some incredible terracotta style lifesized models of the stages of the cross, each housed in a little building with a bit barred door - luckily the smartphone camera just fitted between the bars (and most were nowhere nearly as well naturally illuminated as this one)!


The last stop was to actually look into the convent (2 Euros) where Wellington stayed (see plaque at top of the article).


The centre of the convent is a small chapel, and then all around the corridor that surrounds it on 4 sides are the small cells of the monks. I wonder which one Wellington commandeered?


The most amazing thing about the place is that all the doors and the ceiling beams are covered in the cork bark that grows locally. It gives the whole place a very organic feel, but I guess it's a great insulator.

One final Napoleonic photo - the old olive tree outside the convent where Wellington is alleged to have tied his horse.


The whole site around the hotel was busy all weekend with tour groups, a kids festival and a car rally - so it's nice to see that the place isn't too forgotten (or exclusive).



Overall a great weekend, a lovely place to stay, and a nice walk. But really you'll need a car to see the full extent of the battle as distances are big and paths poor - and a lot better map!

Oh, and this is the room I'm blogging from.



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