Belgium // Brussels //

The battlefield – Le Hameau de Lion

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Some 4km south of town, the Waterloo battlefield is a landscape of rolling farmland, interrupted by a couple of main roads and more pleasingly punctuated by the odd copse and farmstead. The ridge where Wellington once marshalled his army now holds a motley assortment of attractions collectively known as Le Hameau du Lion (Lion’s Hamlet). This comprises four separate sites all within a few metres of each other, with the added offering of a 45-minute battlefield tour in a four-wheel-drive. Of the four sites, the worst are the Centre du Visiteur, which features a dire audiovisual display on the battle, and the Musée de Cires (same hours), a dusty wax museum. The best is the 100m-high Butte de Lion (same hours), built by local women with soil from the battlefield. The Butte marks the spot where Holland’s Prince William of Orange – one of Wellington’s commanders and later King William II of the Netherlands – was wounded. It was only a nick, so goodness knows how high it would have been if William had been seriously injured, but even so the mound is a commanding monument, surmounted by a regal 28-tonne lion atop a stout column. From the viewing platform, there’s a panoramic view over the battlefield, and a plan identifies which army was where. Also enjoyable is the Panorama de la Bataille (same hours), where a circular, naturalistic painting of the battle, on a canvas no less than 110m in circumference, is displayed in a purpose-built, rotunda-like gallery – to a thundering soundtrack of bugles, snorting horses and cannon fire. Panorama painting is extremely difficult – controlling perspective is always a real problem – but it was very much in vogue when the Parisian artist Louis Dumoulin began this effort in 1912. Precious few panoramas have survived and this one is a bit past its best, but it does at least give a sense of the battle. You can also venture out onto the battlefield under your own steam by following the old track that cuts south across the fields from beside the Panorama.