• Almeida's walls relive Napoleonic siege in Peninsular War
  • Carlos García

    Almeida (Portugal), Aug 28 (EFE).- Around 400 reenactors gathered on Sunday in the Portuguese town of Almeida to recreate the fortified village's siege by Napoleonic troops in 1810.

    The historic municipality, located in the Guarda District on Portugal's northeastern border with Spain, was beleaguered two centuries ago by the famous Sard in his attempt to conquer the Iberian Peninsula.

    Napoleon faced off against the allied powers of Spain, Britain and Portugal _ under the command of Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington _, who saw themselves as the last hurdle confronting the French commander in his quest for territorial expansion.

    Almeida now commemorates the bloody event by staging a historical reenactment each August that attracts thousands of tourists and historians from all over Europe.

    At the onset of the Peninsular War, Napoleon put his trusted Marshal of the Empire André Masséna in charge of the French troops. Masséna at that time had never tasted defeat and had his headquarters at the Spanish monastery of La Caridad in Ciudad Rodrigo, 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of Almeida.

    Ciudad Rodrigo was besieged by the French for 25 days before finally surrendering on July 9, 1810, leaving the invaders free to advance towards the west.

    The first major battle on Portuguese soil occurred on July 24 at the Ponte del Rio Côa _ a bridge overlooking Almeida _ when 20,000 French soldiers commanded by Marshal Michel Ney clashed against the 5,000-strong Anglo-Portuguese coalition led by Brig. Gen. Robert Craufurd.

    Napoleon's troops, who clearly outnumbered the allies, forced the latter to retreat towards Almeida's fortified walls; nevertheless, the Combat of the Côa came at great cost: the French suffered heavy casualties and losses ranging from 300 to 530 killed, wounded or captured.

    The French Emperor, who saw Almeida as the key to Portugal, then decided to lay siege to the strategically-located town before initiating a full-on attack on the heavily fortified walls.

    Reenactors at Almeida's Place-of-arms are able to carry onlookers away to August 26, 1810, the day Masséna's army decided to start the assault on the walled village.

    That fateful night _ over two hundred years ago _ ended up in tragedy, with dozens of building engulfed in flames and the city's castle-fortress, which doubled as a gunpowder arsenal, blowing up in a massive explosion triggered by enemy fire.

    The thousands of casualties and human lives _ both military and civilian _ lost were compounded by incalculable material damage, such as the destruction of Almeida's cathedral.

    On August 28, after three days of intensive combat, Almeida capitulated: the British surrendered and handed over the Portuguese stronghold to Napoleon.

    However, half a year later, Wellington's allied troops started to make incursions on the Spanish-Portuguese border in an attempt to reconquer crucial enclaves such as Almeida and Sabugal, leading Napoleon to slowly lose positions on the Iberian Peninsula.

    Reenactors nowadays remind visitors that the border between Spain and Portugal, established in the 13th-century Treaty of Alcañices, is one of the oldest in the world.

    The numerous, centuries-old walls that sprawl throughout the border _ colloquially known as the A Raia region _ are part of a coordinated effort by Almeida and other Portuguese cities to include the area on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.

    The historical reenactments over the weekend have been complemented by several talks given by experts in Spanish and Portuguese history who emphasized A Raia's artistic and historical value.


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